No medical marijuana election in Costa Mesa until 2016, judge agrees

An Orange County Superior Court judge has ruled that the city of Costa Mesa will not have to hold a special election this year for a medical marijuana initiative.

The initiative, which would permit up to four medical marijuana dispensaries in the city, fell into contention in December following a City Council decision to place it on the November 2016 general election ballot instead of a special election, as its proponents intended.

Council members determined that the proposed law contained a new general tax, making it unconstitutional to go before voters in a special election. They cited Proposition 218, a 1996 amendment to the state constitution that requires proposals for new general taxes to appear before voters during elections when a city’s governing body is chosen.

In Costa Mesa’s case, that will be Nov. 8, 2016.

That far-off date, however, was objectionable to Los Angeles attorney David Welch who, on behalf of clients Taylor Webster and Michael Levesque, sued the city over the matter in March.

Judge John Gastelum sided with Costa Mesa this week, arguing that in this case, constitutional law trumps the state’s election code, which requires a special election for certified petitions.

“We are happy that the judge agreed that the city’s interpretation was correct, [in] that any initiative with tax implications should be decided during a general election rather than a special election,” city Chief Executive Tom Hatch said in a statement.

Welch was not available for comment Tuesday.

Fullerton lawyer Randall Longwith, whose separate initiative would allow up to eight dispensaries in Costa Mesa, also challenged the council decision in March. Because his law also would contain a new general tax, it too was delayed until November 2016.

The council’s judgment has withstood legal scrutiny thus far. In March and April, a county judge denied Longwith’s requests for a special election.

Medical marijuana dispensaries have been banned in Costa Mesa since 2005.