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Several residents and the North Coastal Prevention Coalition opposed the city’s pursuit of recreational adult-use cannabis. File photo
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Vista City Council takes first step toward adult-use marijuana

VISTA — After a discussion on recreational adult-use cannabis, the Vista City Council at its May 25 meeting unanimously consented to give the green light for city staff to draft an ordinance.

Additionally, the council also unanimously approved adjusting its permit fees under the Cannabis Management Program as it significantly cut fees for businesses with and without delivery. As of July 1, medicinal marijuana dispensaries with delivery will pay a total of $19,967, while businesses without delivery must pay $11,128.

Those fees are $8,000 and $11,800 less, respectively, than what was approved last June, according to Vista City Clerk Kathy Valdez.

In 2018, Vista voters approved Measure Z to allow medicinal use and since then, the council has approved allowing testing, manufacturing and distribution in the city. Additionally, tax revenue jumped from $1.3 million in 2019 to $4 million this past year and is estimated at $4 million for the next two fiscal years; although city staff expects more than $5 million, according to Councilman Joe Green.

“All dispensaries have proved to be good players,” Green said. “We can cut down on outside businesses that are unregulated.”

In the run-up to last year’s election, he said he wanted to pursue expanding the city’s marijuana industry. His proposal also includes a 7% tax rate, same as medicinal, which would add between $780,000 to $1,000,040 in revenue for the city.

Additionally, he said the city could then use the money to fund programs around youth drug prevention. Also, he, along with others on the council, said it would help alleviate the illegal shops popping up, saying those are like playing “whack-a-mole” when it comes to law enforcement.

Mayor Judy Ritter expressed concerns with adult use, mostly around advertising and marketing toward kids.

Several residents and those associated with the North Coastal Prevention Coalition opposed the city’s pursuit of recreational use for adults. They said the businesses lack enforcement from regulators, send the wrong message to kids and invite crime to the city.

However, proponents said a fully legal market would reduce the illegal shops and those customers, as there would be no need to secure a medicinal identification card.

Councilwoman Corinna Contreras said it succinctly.

“Prohibition does not work,” she said. “It did not work for alcohol and it’s not working for cannabis.”

The council, through staff drafting an ordinance, will make compliance and decoy operations a priority. Also, Contreras said moving to adult-use will allow only those people 21 or older to access marijuana, compared to 18 with a medical card.

Councilwoman Katie Melendez said it is also important for the city to ensure equity for those marginalized communities and people of color who are more likely to be “victimized” by enforcement. The council agreed to include her concern in a later discussion as staff reviews those city-specific ordinances.

Councilman John Franklin said the city will look at enforcement tactics and strategies to build the ordinance around. Additionally, he said it is important for the city to protect the businesses and those jobs.

He also noted how Oceanside recently approved modifying the city ordinance to allow recreational use, while Vista could allow its medicinal dispensaries a path to adult use. Meanwhile, Escondido recently declined to approve recreational use.