The Coast News Group

Vista Council latest to grapple with medical marijuana

VISTA — The City Council signaled its support for an ordinance that would allow the sale and delivery of medical marijuana. City staff will now draft the new rules, which could come back for final approval by April.

Councilman Joe Green initiated the item after a petition was circulated that called for allowing commercial marijuana in the city, and after he saw how Vistans voted on Proposition 64, which legalized recreational marijuana.

“It’s a clear indication Vista voters have a favorable opinion on marijuana,” Green said. “I can only assume medical marijuana on the ballot would pass with bigger margins.”

Though residents are allowed to grow up to six plants, carry and transport marijuana, the city prohibits all commercial marijuana operations through its zoning ordinance.

In response to the city doubling down on medical marijuana last year, medical marijuana supporters put together an initiative that would allow commercial operations in the city’s commercial, industrial, and mixed-use areas.

Supporters need 5,600 signatures to get the initiative in front of the City Council, which could either adopt the initiative, or send it to a special election, which could cost the city over $300,000.

In February, the Union-Tribune reported that many of the nearly 7,000 signatures that were filed with the city clerk were invalidated, because the pages of the petition didn’t contain the proper name of the ballot measure, but supporters would continue to gather signatures.

At Tuesday’s meeting, about 150 people showed up with signs and stickers calling for an end to “the war on medical marijuana.” About 30 people spoke in favor of allowing it, and to say that after Californians gave their approval to recreational marijuana, the decision was now about safe access for patients.

One man spoke about the need for his son, who uses a wheelchair and suffers from seizures, to have access to medical marijuana, and experts who can help identify what types work best for different conditions.

“He needs safe access. There is one type to stop seizures, and I’ve been lucky enough to find someone who is knowledgeable,” he said.

Resident Robert Gore said people are giving their money to black market businesses to get their medicine, only to have their tax dollars used to shut them down.

A small group, all from the North Coastal Prevention Coalition, opposed the initiative and any plan to allow medical marijuana.

“I’m concerned, because decades of research shows increased access leads to greater problems,” Erica Leary said. “Who gets access is not under the city’s purview. Now anyone over 21 can grow, carry and transport it. Storefronts are about making money.”

Councilwoman Amanda Rigby said she was also concerned about marijuana still being illegal at the federal level, and what that could mean for the city.

Deputy Mayor John Franklin agreed, and said he couldn’t vote for any law that, “violates the Constitution and the supreme law of the land.”

Other concerns from council members included how businesses can safely store their money when federal policy prohibits marijuana operations from using banks, and how the city can tax sales, and apply zoning requirements consistent with other commercial and industrial uses.

Green said that the initiative being circulated doesn’t address these issues, and also lowers the penalty for violating the city’s ordinances to an infraction, were his main reasons for bringing the item to the council, and proposing an alternative ordinance to the initiative.

Ultimately, Mayor Judy Ritter and Councilman John Aguilera agreed.

“I have to listen to the people that put me here. That’s why I will consider this.” Aguilera said.

1 comment

Craig Balben March 17, 2017 at 9:19 am

Here are some interesting voting statistics:
-Lemon Grove approved Prop. 64 last year with a 57% vote but only slightly approved dispensaries with a 50.5% vote, in a presidential election year.
-Imperial Beach approved Prop. 64 last year with a 62% vote but the dispensary measure in 2012 failed with only a 41% vote in a presidential election year.
-Encinitas approved Prop. 64 last year with a 65% vote but the dispensary measure in 2014 failed with only a 44% vote in a gubernatorial election year.
The message is clear – a majority of voters in San Diego County seem to be ok with personal and private use of marijuana but clearly have issues with storefronts making marijuana more visible in our communities.

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