Costa Mesa can delay medical marijuana election, judge decides
An Orange County Superior Court judge Thursday denied a motion that would have compelled Costa Mesa to hold a special election later this year about allowing medical marijuana dispensaries in the city.
In his ruling, Judge Peter Wilson said he would not force the city to hold the election, partially because the certified marijuana petition in question contains new general taxes that, under California’s constitution as amended by Proposition 218, can only come before voters during a general election, when the city’s governing members are chosen.
Wilson’s ruling echoed the reasoning of the Costa Mesa City Council, which in December voted to have this petition and a second similar proposal come before voters in November 2016, the city’s next general election. The council ruled that because of the new general taxes — a 6% sales tax on the business — having the elections in the spring would violate Proposition 218.
For at least one marijuana petitioner, however, November 2016 was too long to wait. In March, petitioner Robert Taft sued the city with the hope of spurring the election sooner rather than later.
His attorney, Randall Longwith contended that because their petition had gathered more than enough signatures, state election code should triumph and force Costa Mesa to have a special election this spring.
In court Thursday, he argued that Proposition 218 was not intended to limit when petitioners could put tax increases to a vote.
Wilson disagreed, saying that under Longwith’s interpretation a relatively small group of people signing on to an initiative could hypothetically place a 20% sales tax increase on the ballot in a low-turnout election.
In March, Wilson also denied an emergency injunction to force the special election.
With the second denial Thursday, Taft said he will likely circulate a new petition without the tax component instead of waiting for the general election.
He said Costa Mesa had essentially talked itself out of extra revenue it was being offered.
“We [were] literally taxing ourselves here,” he said.
In his ruling, Wilson also wrote that the petitioners failed to show how postponing the vote until 2016 would harm them.
“Conversely, defendant City of Costa Mesa has established the substantial financial harm it will suffer if it must prematurely schedule a potentially invalid special election,” he wrote.
Dispensaries have been banned in Costa Mesa since 2005.
— Daily Pilot staff writer Bradley Zint contributed to this report.