Marijuana initiative signatures turned in to force city OK or a vote

Medical marijuana dispensaries could return to Costa Mesa if a proposed referendum wins City Council or voter approval.

Organizers of the ARRO Initiative, or Act to Restrict and Regulate the Operation of Medical Marijuana Businesses, submitted 11,080 signatures Tuesday, according to the city clerk’s office.

The office spent several hours going through the signatures before delivering them for verification Wednesday to the Orange County registrar of voters.

The initiative needs 15% of Costa Mesa’s electorate, or about 7,400 verified signatures, to launch a special election. The registrar has until Oct. 29 to verify the signatures.

With verification, the measure would come back to the City Council, which could then approve the initiative as is or call for a special election, according to the clerk’s office.

A special election could occur within the first few months of 2015.

ARRO Initiative organizers submitted their proposal to City Hall in April, though they did not submit their signatures in time for the measure to qualify for the November ballot.

Organizers, led by Orange County attorney Randall Longwith, have called their proposed law a “conservative approach” that provides “dignified access” to medical marijuana under the voter-approved Compassionate Use Act of 1996.

The proposed law would permit eight dispensaries in Costa Mesa so long as they are not concentrated in any one area. It would also impose a 6% municipal sales tax and require sellers to have state permits.

“The residents of Costa Mesa were very receptive,” Longwith said Wednesday. “This isn’t a conservative or liberal issue.”

Costa Mesa’s municipal code currently bans the dispensaries.

In August, Councilman Gary Monahan, with help from the city attorney’s office, created a proposal to put a medical marijuana law on the Nov. 4 ballot.

Many, including Longwith, called Monahan’s law exemplary. Many praised the medicinal qualities of cannabis and implored the council to bring the issue before voters, but Monahan’s proposal did not find any support from his council colleagues and was scrapped.

Critics called the councilman’s proposal rushed because it didn’t get much vetting from the council or the Police Department.