Political support for medical marijuana begins to waft away

A proposed law to return medical marijuana dispensaries to Costa Mesa lost traction Tuesday, as City Council members took turns expressing their reservations about trying to regulate the drug and its distribution.

During an informal study session before a room of cannabis activists, four council members examined a modified version of a marijuana ordinance spearheaded by Councilman Gary Monahan that was ultimately rejected. Mayor Steve Mensinger, in a Washington, D.C., conference as the city’s representative, was absent.

Though the council wasn’t shy about expressing its concerns with the new draft, members did concede that Costa Mesa should have its own law ready in time for November 2016 — when two certified pot petitions are scheduled to be on city ballots — so that voters have more choices.

Those petitions were distributed last year, but delayed from starting a special election this spring because of tax provisions and their conflicts with the state Constitution.

Suggested changes to Monahan’s earlier draft, some of which came from Councilwoman Katrina Foley, included an annual business license fee as high as $10,000, charging $10 monthly for each square foot within a dispensary and taxing 15% of its gross receipts.

Monahan called those add-ons a “joke.”

“I cannot agree with that in any way, shape or form,” he said.

Other suggestions were prohibiting home delivery of marijuana supplies and implementing a cost-recovery system to City Hall, should dispensaries attract so-called “excessive” amounts of police attention.

Monahan contended that prohibiting delivery hurts the neediest of patients.

“The sickest of the sick need it delivered,” he said. “And that’s who we’re talking about.”

Councilwoman Sandy Genis said she feared delivery drivers would be susceptible to theft of their supplies or money.

Foley said marijuana dispensaries in Costa Mesa would attract the undue influence of cartels selling drugs for profit, not their possible medical benefits.

“To me, this is a money grab,” she said. “It’s not a money grab by the City Council. It’s a money grab by what I see as loads and loads of cash that are going to be streaming through our city with no controls whatsoever.”

Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer agreed.

“It’s millions and millions of dollars,” he said. “It will have a corrupting effect.”

Righeimer added that he didn’t feel comfortable making regulatory decisions about the chemical properties of marijuana, such as THC levels, in a manner that’s better kept under the control of state or federal agencies, such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Lake Forest attorney Matthew Pappas, who has fought Costa Mesa in several lawsuits about its marijuana laws, contended the issue “isn’t about money. This is about people, the people who use medical cannabis.”

Other speakers said they had concerns about the proliferation of dispensaries in Santa Ana, near its border with Costa Mesa, and the belief that marijuana is far less dangerous than alcohol, which is widely available.

Costa Mesa has banned dispensaries since 2005, though they flourished until federal raids in 2012.