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No Costa Mesa medical marijuana vote next year

The Costa Mesa City Council on Tuesday opted not to call a special election for two competing medical marijuana measures, instead deciding to reexamine a proposal championed by Councilman Gary Monahan.

The two petitions, both certified by the county registrar as having received signatures from the required 15% of the city electorate, will now come back to the council in 2016, in time for the general election that November.

The move was an attempt by the council to comply with the California Constitution, which mandates that provisions calling for a new general tax be decided upon during an election of a city’s governing body — meaning the 2016 council race.

Both petitions would regulate medical marijuana dispensaries, which are currently banned in the city, and both have a taxing provision.

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Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer dissented on the motion to delay.

On its vote to reexamine Monahan’s proposal — which found no council backing when floated in August — the council split 3 to 2, with Righeimer and Mayor Steve Mensinger dissenting.

The councilmen opposed a series of changes to the Monahan proposal raised by Councilwoman Katrina Foley, including requiring that the facilities serve only people 21 and older; stand 1,000 feet from schools, parks, residential areas and other dispensaries; are only allowed in manufacturing or industrial areas; and the implementation of an annual report on the dispensaries’ compliance with the ordinance and their effects on crime and schools.

Foley also called for a new business tax of 10% of the dispensaries’ gross receipts. The tax would go toward the costs of holding the special election; inspecting the facilities and ensuring compliance with the dispensary ordinance; bringing down the city’s unfunded pension liability and any pension contributions thereafter; educating the public about drug abuse; and preventing homelessness.

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Because it would be an earmarked tax, it would not necessarily have to be voted on during the 2016 council election and could be decided during a special vote. Passage would require two-thirds voter approval.

In urging City Hall control of the substance, Foley cited predictions that marijuana will become legal for recreational use in California by 2016.

“I believe strongly that we have to be ahead of this,” Foley said. “We cannot be behind it.”

Righeimer said he was doubtful that Costa Mesa voters would approve the tax, which he suggested would not put much of a dent in the city’s roughly $220-million unfunded pension liability.

“You’re joking,” he said. “The whole town would have to be stoned.”

Foley responded that she was trying come up with a “solution to what I see is a no-win situation.”

Righeimer also expressed skepticism of any notion of regulating the chemicals in cannabis.

“We’re like the Food and Drug Administration now?” he asked. “We’re going to figure out THC [levels]?”

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Some public speakers warned that with Santa Ana’s recently approved marijuana law forcing the closure of dispensaries there, many of those operators will want to move into Costa Mesa.

“The word on the street is they’re all coming here,” said Robert Taft, a Costa Mesa resident who helped spearhead one of the certified marijuana initiatives this year. “Call me Nostradamus. It’s gonna happen.”

Righeimer said he didn’t want to see Costa Mesa become known “as a place where you can get your pot” and urged his colleagues to create a special task force to study the matter. He and fellow council members have said they generally approve of medical cannabis for patients who need it, but they have different views of how to regulate it in the city.

The council will next examine Monahan’s ordinance, with Foley’s additions, in January. The exact meeting date was unclear Tuesday.

Marijuana dispensaries have been banned in Costa Mesa since 2005, though many openly operated until federal shutdowns forced their closure in 2012.


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