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Marijuana petitioners concerned about Costa Mesa council decision

Attorneys representing two certified medical marijuana petitions said they haven’t ruled out legal challenges to the Costa Mesa council’s decision to keep the measures from appearing on the ballot for nearly two years.

The council voted Tuesday to bring the two petitions before voters in November 2016, instead of during a special election that could be called as early as March, citing a desire to be in accordance with the state Constitution.

The California Constitution requires that any plan to add a general tax must be put to voters during an election in which the city’s governing body is decided — that would be the City Council, in Costa Mesa’s case.

Both marijuana proposals call for creating a general tax.

The city’s next council election will be held in November 2016.

But attorney Randall Longwith, who represents the petition that would allow eight dispensaries to operate in the city, which has banned such outlets since 2005, said he disagrees with the city’s contention that a conflict exists between the state’s Constitution and election code.

He pointed to Proposition 218, approved by California voters in 1996, which requires local governments to get voter approval before levying new taxes. Longwith said his petition would not fall under the provisions of the proposition because the residents who signed it cannot be considered “local government.” Therefore, his marijuana petition would be eligible for a special election despite its tax provision, he added.

“Who’s a local government?” Longwith said. “I am the people. I am the antithesis of local government.”

David R. Welch, whose petition would allow up to four dispensaries in Costa Mesa, said his clients believe the council’s decision was an “unfair” act of “gamesmanship” that sets back the will of the voters.

“They’re choosing outwardly to say they’re following the constitution, but it seems like they’re finding a way to delay the petitioners’ desire,” he said. “They’re simply trying to find a way to kick the voters’ petition two years down the road.”

Welch also disagreed with Councilwoman Katrina Foley’s idea to levy a new 10% business tax on the dispensaries’ gross receipts. She was building on a medicinal marijuana ordinance created by Councilman Gary Monahan and the city attorney’s office this year. The council voted Tuesday to reexamine that proposal.

Longwith said he is concerned about the timing of Costa Mesa’s marijuana law. It should be created expediently, he argued.

“I hope that I don’t have to do anything,” Longwith said, “and that [the council does] the right thing, which I think they will.”


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