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2 medical marijuana dispensaries to be up for vote on November ballot

Marijuana plants under grow lights at Alternative Solutions, a medical marijuana producer in Washington, D.C., are shown in this file photo from April 19, 2016.

Marijuana plants under grow lights at Alternative Solutions, a medical marijuana producer in Washington, D.C., are shown in this file photo from April 19, 2016.

(Brendan Smialowski / AFP/Getty Images)

An initiative that would allow for two medical marijuana dispensaries in Laguna Beach will stand alone on the November ballot after the City Council on Monday opted not to place a competing measure in front of voters.

In yet another twist to a dispensary tale that has dragged on for the last four months, the council, in a 4-0 vote, declined to partake in a ballot-measure war, instead vowing to fight a citizens'-backed initiative in the remaining months before the election. Mayor Steve Dicterow recused himself.

“We can beat this proposal,” Councilman Robert Zur Schmiede said. “I think it is ill-conceived for many reasons. It removes local control of location and operation. It gives dispensaries a pass on our typical use permit processes ... It creates a magnet for nonresidents seeking medical marijuana.

“I don’t want to be forced into selecting an ordinance that our staff has been trying to craft to address the worst aspects of this ballot initiative ... I’m not going to do something with a gun to my head.”

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The council’s decision came four days before Friday’s deadline for ballot submissions.

“I’m disheartened that the [council] takes a unified approach to opposing the ordinance that only represents a portion of the citizens of Laguna Beach,” said Charnel James, an attorney representing initiative authors. “But that is something they will have to deal with.”

The council has met a handful of times to discuss the matter since April, when it was discovered the citizens'-backed initiative that would repeal the city’s current ban on dispensaries gathered enough signatures to qualify for the ballot.

Proponents claim that having a dispensary or two in town would provide a service to residents who are unable to drive to cities such as Santa Ana to pick up their prescriptions. Medical cannabis has been lauded for helping patients cope with chronic health conditions.

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Opponents are concerned that one or two dispensaries would exacerbate already heavy traffic patterns within the city, and create an environment where illegal sales and abuse of marijuana could take place.

According to the initiative, dispensaries would be allowed only in commercial zones and could not abut residential areas or be less than 1,000 feet from a public or private school.

The city’s finance director would screen all applicants and determine whether to issue licenses, according to the initiative, available on the April 12 City Council meeting agenda on the city’s website.

Operators could be refused a license if they had been convicted of a felony or misdemeanor within the last 10 years, or had a prior medical marijuana business license revoked within two years of filing their applications with Laguna, according to the initiative.

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The city’s measure would have allowed for one dispensary and required applicants to be vetted by the Planning Commission and City Council, along with establishing distance setbacks from preschools, daycare centers and parks.

In 1996, California voters passed Proposition 215, known as the Compassionate Use Act, which allows for personal use and cultivation of marijuana for medical reasons after a patient has received a physician’s recommendation.

The city outlawed medical marijuana dispensaries in 2009, and in January the council banned commercial cultivation and large-scale deliveries of the drug.

Patients and caregivers are still allowed to pick up doctors’ prescriptions for marijuana, often used as a cancer treatment, that are filled outside of Laguna and bring them into the city.

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As part of its vote, the council directed city staff to return with a resolution opposing the medical marijuana initiative.

Dicterow gave three reasons why he recused himself, including his role as a district representative for Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Costa Mesa).

“Congressman Rohrabacher is probably as outspoken or the most outspoken government official, if not person in the country, on the issue of medical marijuana,” Dicterow said.

“Although neither he, nor his staff has ever tried to indoctrinate me on a position with respect to medical marijuana, when you work with somebody, and they are your boss for a long period of time, there is either an inherent bias that comes from that where I did not feel I could approach this subject matter in an unbiased, objective way.”

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Bryce Alderton, bryce.alderton@latimes.com

Twitter: @AldertonBryce


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