City's proposed medical marijuana rules will compete with others on Costa Mesa ballot

When it comes to medical marijuana, Costa Mesa voters will be seeing triple in November.

The Costa Mesa City Council decided Tuesday to move ahead with putting a city-sponsored initiative to regulate local medical marijuana dispensaries up for a vote in the fall. That measure would compete against two initiatives already on the ballot.

Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer outlined some particulars he thinks should go in the city initiative, including restricting dispensaries so they could open only in the area north of South Coast Drive and west of Harbor Boulevard.

He also said the city initiative should include a tax on medical marijuana businesses, though he didn't specify how much, and should allow for the manufacture of some related oils for pharmaceutical purposes.

The initiative also should allow the council to adopt additional rules for dispensaries to take into account any future guidelines adopted by the state, Righeimer said.

"The whole issue of how many, what the qualifications are and how they would be picked will flow out of what the state does," he said.

The council unanimously approved Righeimer's suggestions. The exact language of the initiative, once drafted, will go to the council for review.

"I think we have a ways to go," said Councilwoman Sandy Genis.

Righeimer said his goal is to come up with something that can get more support than the two other initiatives since, if more than one passes, the measure that receives the most votes would become law.

"What I was looking at is, 'How do we get it to be the highest vote-getter so that we have the opportunity to have an ordinance so we control our future?' " he said. "If we let the other two win, we're dead."

Costa Mesa has banned dispensaries in the city since 2005. The two initiatives already on the ballot would allow a small number — either four or eight — to open. Both also propose a 6% tax on medical marijuana businesses.

Resident Harold Weitzberg said he thinks it's important for the city to have ways to control and regulate dispensaries, but he's not a fan of restricting where they can open, as Righeimer suggested.

"I do not like the idea of just banning everything to the north side of the 405," Weitzberg said. "I do agree that we don't need to have storefronts blaring it."

Wendy Leece, a former councilwoman, said she thinks Costa Mesa should allow only one or two dispensaries. She also raised concerns about the possible effects of marijuana use on children and young adults.

"There is a lot of medical evidence that, in the growing young person's brain, it causes damage," she said. "And I don't think, as a community, that's where we want to go. We want to protect our young people and just restrain this proliferation."

Tuesday marked the fourth time in recent weeks that council members have opted to draft a measure for November's ballot. They also have decided to ask voters whether the city should adopt district-based voting for future council elections and to present a proposed $20-million bond for affordable-housing projects and a city-sponsored growth-control initiative that would compete against one authored by local residents.

The affordable-housing and growth-control initiatives are expected to return to the council for further review.

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