By Dave Schwab
City prepares for changes after voters approve medical marijuana shops
Now that Measure U has passed overturning La Mesa’s ban on medical marijuana, including dispensaries, it’s up to the city do an about-face to implement the initiative.
Measure U received 51.41 percent of La Mesa’s votes Nov. 8, more than the simple majority needed.
The citizen-sponsored initiative authorizes and regulates medical marijuana dispensaries, and limits commercial cultivation sites to industrial and manufacturing zones with a permit issued by the city. It prohibits growing marijuana in a residential zone.
On the same ballot, statewide Proposition 64 legalizing recreational marijuana for adults age 21 and up also passed by a 57.13 percent to 42.87 percent margin.
Carol Dick, La Mesa’s director of community development, said medical marijuana will get first — and top — priority.
“Prop. 64, we’re not even dealing with that yet,” Dick said noting, “So much depends on the state getting their licensing put into place.”
The city staffer said Jan. 12 is when Measure U takes effect, 30 days after being certified.
“We have taken that measure and created an application form and a map,” Dick said. “We’re feverishly working on that. These are our two highest priorities.”
Pointing out Measure U’s implementation is being done on “a very tight timeframe,” Dick said, “We can commit to that date (Jan. 12)” adding “we want to make sure it’s well thought out.”
However, despite the city’s being well versed in doing conditional use permits (CUPs), which will be required of dispensaries, Dick cautioned, “It’s a very specific type of use — with very specific restrictions.”
Two La Mesa council members, Kristine C. Alessio and Bill Baber, weighed in on Measure U’s implementation, and what they’d like to see done with it.
“My main concern is with our ability to handle, from a staffing perspective, the applications for Conditional Use Permits which I am quite sure we will be deluged with,” said Alessio.
She added, “Dispensaries will have to comply with existing law as to the issuance of Conditional Use Permits, which includes factual findings that must be met in order for the permit to be granted. Our Planning Commission will be the first to hear the applications, and the City Council will be the final say should someone appeal a Planning Commission decision.”
Baber, who’s worked on several citizen initiatives, including La Mesa term limits, confided he was “neutral” on U’s passage.
“I respect the authority of citizens to legislate via an initiative without the politicians mucking up the process,” Baber said. “This was a citizen initiative that established objective rules for obtaining a CUP for medicinal (not recreational) marijuana dispensaries. The citizens, by their votes, exercised their legislative control of the issue. The City Council must follow the initiative, we can not change it or ‘fix’ it or ignore it.”
Baber added there’s a failsafe in the initiative in that “neighbors can raise objections to the granting of any CUP.”
Baber pointed out medicinal dispensaries still need to be licensed by the state adding, “We don’t expect state licenses to be granted until January 2018, so I don’t expect to see medicinal dispensaries fully functioning for another 13 months.”
Paradoxically, Baber noted La Mesa “may ban recreational dispensaries under Prop. 64, but we cannot ban medicinal dispensaries under Prop. U. Medicinal is for patients, not partiers, and that is an important distinction.”
Concerning medical marijuana’s future, Baber said, “This medicinal initiative was written and passed independent of Prop 64. With the passage of Prop. 64, I think future initiatives will focus on recreational, not medicinal, issues.”
Vey Linville, who campaigned in favor of the first unsuccessful medical marijuana initiative in La Mesa, is secretary of the San Diego Chapter of Americans For Safe Access (AFSA). AFSA is the largest medical marijuana patient organization in the nation with more than 50,000 members.
A resident of unincorporated Spring Valley who lives near La Mesa, Linville and AFSA were elated by Measure U’s passage.
Noting the La Mesa City Council previously “fought tooth and nail” against allowing medical marijuana, Linville said he hopes that “would change now that there have been some changes to the council. Hopefully this situation will change over time, and there will be more and more support going forward.”
Added Linville, “I would think you would want folks who are legally entitled to have safe access to their medicine, to have somewhere in the community where it is actually legal for them to go and take care of that. There shouldn’t be anything less than that. It’s important we provide those patients access to their medicine in a safe and rational manner — just like everyone else.”
Unlike recreational marijuana, Linville noted taxes, which are significant, “aren’t going to apply on the medical side.” He added, “That’s a fundamental difference,” pointing out that, for most, “there isn’t a tax on their medicine.”
Linville noted great strides were made nationally with medical marijuana, as eight of nine proposed ballot measures for legalization passed this November. He added San Diego County did its part, with local measures passing in both La Mesa and Lemon Grove (by a mere 87 votes).
“It’s a watershed time in history for marijuana proponents,” said Linville noting law “is changing all over the country and all over the world.
“It’s all part of a bigger picture,” Linville concluded.
La Mesa’s existing dispensaries
There are several dispensaries listed on Weedmaps and in the San Diego Reader in La Mesa and environs, which declined comment for this article. The Reader also carries a nine-page list, in the back of the publication, of existing medical marijuana dispensaries dispersed throughout San Diego County, including La Mesa.
In La Mesa proper, Weedmaps/The Reader list 11 dispensaries that are currently operating. They have names like Greener Side Wellness, Diamond Collective, Green Nature Collective, Cloud 9 Wellness Center and La Mesa Greens. Most of them clustered along University Avenue, and a few more are located on Jackson Drive, El Cajon Boulevard, Center Drive and Case Street. In addition to walk-in dispensaries, there are also delivery-only establishments that list La Mesa as their operating address.
After the city reviews where dispensaries will be allowed to operate, some, if not all, of these establishments may have to move — that is, of course, if their CUPs are approved.
—Dave Schwab can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.