ESCONDIDO – The Escondido City Council recently voted 3-2 to postpone a discussion on the legalization of cannabis sales in the city, however it is unclear when exactly they will revisit the issue.
At the meeting on March 24, the council received 131 public comments on the issue, with 110 voicing support of legalization and 21 opposed. However, because the item was postponed, the comments were not read into the record.
Previous city-led surveys of Escondido residents have also indicated that many community members are in favor of legalizing cannabis sales.
Councilman Mike Morasco proposed postponing the discussion and was supported by Councilmembers Tina Inscoe and Joe Garcia.
“I don’t think it’s necessary for us to make these determinations at this time,” Morasco said. “There’s a lot more information that could be obtained and provided and I’d like to move the discussion to a later date.”
Back in 2018, the council unanimously voted to prohibit the use and sale of cannabis in the city — 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.”
Mayor Paul McNamara raised a concern that several organizations have already indicated that they would put the issue on the ballot if the council doesn’t address it soon.
“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,” according to the staff report.
This is what occurred in the City of Vista back in 2018.
The agenda item also calls for the council to consider accepting Cannabis Equity Act Grant Funding of up to $75,000. The deadline to accept the grant is May 12.
When City Manager Jeffrey Epp and Deputy City Manager Chris McKinney were asked to explain the grant, Councilman Morasco said again that he didn’t want to discuss the matter at this time.
“I’m a little reluctant to give up $75,000 without at least a little discussion,” Mayor McNamara said in response.
To which Morasco said, “It’s bad $75,000.”
Councilwoman Consuelo Martinez also said that she didn’t want to postpone the discussion without setting a date to revisit it.
“I would like an opportunity to talk about this issue well in advance of that May 12 deadline,” Councilwoman Martinez said. “Postponing an item without having a date is clearly a strategy and a tactic to not talk about this issue and to have time-lapse so that this grant will not be accepted. Clearly, I know what’s happening right now.”
Legalizing cannabis sales could put a significant dent in the city’s projected budget deficit of $8 million in the fiscal year 2021/22 alone.
The city might generate net revenue of over $2 million annually from legal cannabis sales with five operating dispensaries and a well-developed permitting and code enforcement process, according to the staff report.