By Jeff Clemetson | Editor
At its Feb. 28 meeting, the La Mesa City Council tackled the daunting task of updating how it will enforce marijuana statutes now that new local and statewide laws are coming into effect.
City Attorney Glenn Sabine presented the council with an explanation of La Mesa’s existing regulations that were voted on in January 2016.
“The intent of that ordinance was to prevent the state from issuing licenses for medical marijuana uses in the city of La Mesa,” he said.
Since then, La Mesa voters approved Measure U, overturning the council’s ordinance; California voters approved Proposition 64, allowing for recreational use; and the state legislature adopted the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act (MMRSA), which outlines how the state will regulate medical marijuana.
The three laws provided the council with a set framework for some rules and choices for others in what the city can and cannot regulate when it comes to growing, selling and possessing marijuana.
The council voted unanimously to prohibit recreational marijuana businesses allowed under Prop 64.
“I’m prepared at this time to prohibit recreational,” Vice Mayor Bill Baber said. “I want to see how we manage medicinal at this point.”
Councilmember Colin Parent agreed, but reminded the council that the prohibition position may need to change because the recreational industry may someday be able to pass laws at the state level that will override the city’s ban.
“I think that there is a strong possibility that as recreational use becomes more frequent, common and normal — not just in the San Diego area, but in California — that we’re going to want to revisit this,” Parent said.
With the issue of recreational marijuana out of the way, the council was left with only a few gray areas that are not explicitly governed by MMRSA and Measure U.
On the question of whether to allow possession, smoking and/or ingestion of marijuana on property owned, leased or occupied by the city, the council decided it should be prohibited.
Parent brought up a hypothetical scenario in which the city owns land and enters into a lease agreement to build affordable housing and said in a situation like that, people should still be allowed to use marijuana in their home.
Councilmember Kristine Alessio said she is not comfortable with recreational use in any city-owned facility, including homes, but would accept patients using medical marijuana.
Sabine said he would come back with an ordinance that prohibits marijuana in places like city parks and buildings and allow for the hypothetical scenario of city-owned or city-leased residences to allow for medical marijuana.
Measure U and MMRSA allow for a patient to grow up to six plants for personal use, but also allows for cities to enact rules how that can be done.
John Bliss, a consultant hired by the city to help draft marijuana policies, told the council that indoor regulations could include the city requiring a permit, regulating pesticide use, additional fire and electrical codes, water restrictions and more.
“A step further would be requiring plants be in a locked, secure location,” he said.
Alessio argued for safety locks for indoor grow spaces, but the council eventually determined that it would be too difficult to police what happens in people’s homes.
Sabine reminded the council that because Measure U is not a zoning issue, it is something that can be revisited.
“If it gets out of hand, you can regulate it later,” he said.
The council voted to prohibit all outdoor growing in the city. Greenhouse growing is still considered indoor, Sabine said.
Because MMRSA and Measure U allow for the city to collect certain taxes, the council decided to have city staff bring back options on what kinds of excise and conditional taxes on medical marijuana dispensaries and businesses would be possible and appropriate, and present them for a vote at a later date.
With regards to deliveries of medical marijuana, Measure U overturned the city ordinance prohibiting them.
However, the council clarified that it will still prohibit mobile dispensaries, which Sabine described as being like an ice cream truck that instead sells marijuana. Under MMRSA, all deliveries must come from state licensed medical dispensaries.
—Reach Jeff Clemetson at email@example.com.