ESCONDIDO — After a lengthy discussion on cannabis legalization, the Escondido City Council on May 19 directed staff not to take action toward legalizing cannabis use in the city.
Wednesday’s discussion on potentially legalizing cannabis in the City of Escondido did not require a vote, but the council did decide 3-2 to not pursue cannabis legalization and to maintain the existing prohibition of cannabis production and sales.
Councilmembers Mike Morasco, Tina Inscoe and Joe Garcia voted against pursuing cannabis legalization, with Councilwoman Consuelo Martinez and Mayor Paul McNamara voting in favor.
The issue was first on the council agenda on March 24, as well as a resolution to accept up to $75,000 in Cannabis Equity Act Grant funding. The council, however, voted 3-2 to postpone the discussion to a later date.
This discussion came one week after the deadline for the grant funds.
At its March 24 meeting, the council received 131 public comments on the issue, with 110 voicing support of legalization and 21 opposed. These were not read aloud at that meeting because the discussion was postponed.
At Wednesday’s meeting, the council heard 18 public comments, the majority of them against legalizing cannabis.
McNamara decided not to have the previous 131 comments read aloud, explaining that it wouldn’t be an efficient use of time.
Martinez expressed her disappointment that the previous comments would not be read aloud and that the meeting was scheduled one week after the grant deadline, which she claimed was “done intentionally.”
Martinez also brought up the concern that several organizations have already indicated that they would put the issue on the ballot if the council doesn’t address it soon.
“There will be dispensaries in Escondido… more than half of the voters support legalizing cannabis,” Martinez said. “I see this as something that’s going to happen in our city and I would much rather get ahead of it and us have control of where these dispensaries would go… and who is going to make these decisions.”
City staff also highlighted this concern in the staff report.
“Cannabis regulations adopted by voter initiative leave a city with little control over the form of regulation, and yet the city still bears responsibility for administering the same regulations. Moreover, regulations left to adoption by initiative offer no guarantee of a funding mechanism to cover the costs of administration,” the staff report said.
This is what occurred in the City of Vista in 2018.
Morasco said that if the issue were to go to a ballot, he believes Escondido residents would vote against it.
“I don’t care about tax dollars from cannabis… just like I don’t care if we get one single tax dollar from prostitution or from gambling or anything else,” Morasco said. “If something were to come up… I have the faith that the citizens of Escondido would have the strength and the ability… to keep Escondido the city of choice for families, youth and everything else except for cannabis.”
The Escondido council currently has a conservative majority with Republicans Morasco, Inscoe and Garcia holding the majority of the seats.
Despite the council officially being a nonpartisan office, members’ political leanings and philosophies tend to play a part in the council’s agendas and voting patterns.
In 2018, the council unanimously voted to prohibit the sale and cultivation of cannabis in the city. But that was a different council than the one that is seated now.
“When the State of California legalized recreational cannabis, Escondido was one of several cities to specifically prohibit the production and sale of cannabis products within their jurisdictions,” the staff report said. “In Escondido, 52% of local voters supported the Proposition 64 statewide measure in 2016; the City’s Resident Satisfaction Survey, conducted in June 2020, showed general support of commercial cannabis sales.”