VISTA — Three different marijuana-related ballot measures will receive a vote on Election Day in Vista. Whether they will go up in smoke and fail, or pass and join most of the rest of the state in cannabis legalization, will be up to voters.
During the 2016 election, the state’s electorate voted in favor of Proposition 64 to legalize marijuana as a regulated business under California law. Though in theory dispensing the drug is now legal throughout the state, in practice every city still has its own say over legalization. Vista, for one, has enacted a de facto cannabis ban.
Vistans for Safe Community Access, a group run by former Vista City Councilman Cody Campbell, is leading an effort to chip away at the ban through its support of Measure Z. That ballot measure, officially dubbed the Retail Medical Marijuana Sales and Tax Initiative, would enable the “retail sales of medical marijuana for up to 11 retailers and enacting a tax of 7 percent of gross receipts” if approved by a majority of voters.
“Over 8,000 Vista voters signed a petition to place Measure Z on the ballot to allow safe, regulated access for medical cannabis patients,” Vistans for Safe Community Access says on its website. “Medical cannabis has been legal in California for over 20 years, yet, in the past few years, the City of Vista has spent millions of dollars on criminal prosecutions to eliminate all access to medical cannabis in the City.”
In Vista, more than 56 percent of the electorate voted “yes” on Proposition 64. Campbell says that he believes that, were the City Council to reflect the will of the voters, the city would already be moving toward a fully legalized apparatus akin to its North County neighbor, Oceanside. Instead, Campbell says, city officials have imposed their own views on the issue and put millions of dollars into law enforcement efforts to shut down cannabis dispensaries.
Campbell says he has supported marijuana legalization in Vista since his time serving on City Council, saying he comes at the position from a point of pragmatism.
“I always tried to be a very pragmatic council member, looking not just at imposing my personal will on the community, which I was not there to do, but to look at how the city could better serve the needs of the residents of the city,” Campbell said. “When I’m there looking at the fact that you’ve got thousands of medical cannabis patients and you’ve people coming up to you left and right saying, ‘Hey, why are you trying to shut us down? Why are you using the Sheriff’s Department and sending in officers in full body armor with helmets and guns into medical cannabis dispensaries and handcuffing patients?’”
Campbell believes that, if residents vote to pass Measure Z, the city will look back at this debate years from now just as it examines the debate over whether to allow craft breweries in the city. About a decade ago, says Campbell, city officials and a swath of the public believed that craft breweries in the city could lead to a spike in underage drinking. But he noted that today the city promotes the industry as a selling point of its local business community.
But Erica Leary, the Oceanside-based program manager for the North Coastal Prevention Coalition which opposes the commercialization of marijuana, pointed to Measure Z as problematic because she thinks it will lead to more marijuana getting into the hands of the city’s youth.
Measure Z will “increase availability and marketing of marijuana, decreasing perception of risk for youth,” Leary said. “Measure Z has a 600-foot distance from K-12 schools, but no considerations for preschools, parks, or youth-serving organizations.”
“Yes” votes on Measure AA and Measure BB, like Measure Z supported by Vistans for Safe Community Access, would further lay the regulatory groundwork for marijuana legalization in Vista.
Measure AA would implement a “general tax on potential future cannabis businesses to offset their community impacts by taxing marijuana cultivation at $14/square foot; and gross receipts of marijuana businesses at rates not exceeding 8% on manufacturing and distribution; 10% on medicinal retail; 12% on adult-use retail; and 3.5% on testing,” according to a San Diego County description of the measure.
Measure BB, meanwhile, would limit the footprint of the medical marijuana delivery industry in the city. The city of Vista would do so by allowing only “up to three non-storefront (delivery only) retailers; authorizing up to two product safety testing laboratories; limiting these business to industrial-type zones; and authorizing and directing the City Council to establish licensing and operating regulations protecting public safety, health, security, and community welfare,” explains the primer of Measure BB provided by San Diego County.
Both AA and BB were put on the ballot by the Vista City Council, with three of the five and four of the five Council members signing off on the measures, respectively, in the belief that Measure Z is a bridge too far for the city. Only Councilman Joe Green, who is running against incumbent Mayor Judy Ritter in the November election, has come out in favor of Measure Z.
“Proposition BB gives those citizens who favor some safe and legal local access to medicinal marijuana the opportunity to achieve that goal without having to vote for Proposition Z, the initiative sponsored by the marijuana industry that would make Vista the retail marijuana capital of North County,” the block of four Vista City Council members wrote in the Voter Information Pamphlet issued to San Diego County voters.
Critics of Proposition BB point to it as a cave to “Big Marijuana” by the conservative block of Vista City Council members.
“While safe and legal local access are nice buzzwords, the fact is that Big Marijuana will find a way to exploit and endanger the lives of our youth, elderly, and disadvantaged communities — just like we see with Big Tobacco and Big Alcohol,” wrote a group of opponents of the initiative in the San Diego County Voter Information Pamphlet. “MORE youth will begin using marijuana at earlier ages.”
In a matter of mere weeks, then, the future regulatory landscape of Vista’s marijuana sector will be much more clear.