Group delivers signatures for pot initiative

Medical marijuana advocates on Wednesday submitted nearly 6,800 signatures to the Costa Mesa city clerk in hopes of placing an initiative on the November ballot that would legalize nonprofit collectives citywide.

"It's imperative to provide safe access for veterans and cancer patients," said dispensary owner Robert Martinez. "I'm super stoked to bring these signatures."

Martinez held a press conference outside of City Hall announcing that he and members of the Orange County Cannabis Alliance gathered nearly 1,000 more valid signatures than the 5,812 required, or 10% of registered voters.

"This is people taking ownership of democracy," said Robert Jurgensen, a military veteran and vice president of the alliance's Political Action Committee.

City Attorney Tom Duarte's analysis of the initiative shows that it would lift the city's ban on marijuana dispensaries and authorize nonprofit collectives to set up storefronts.

Dispensaries would be prohibited from being within 1,000 feet of a school, but would not have to notify the city of their operation or seek its permission, according to the initiative.

They would not need a business license, special site plan or a variance and could only be inspected annually.

The group is operating in a small window to get their initiative on the November ballot. The deadline to get materials on the November ballot is Aug. 10.

The Orange County registrar of voters has 30 business days to verify the signatures, but could use a 3% random sample of the signatures to expedite the initiative process. The registrar then sends it back to the city.

Duarte's analysis along with the signatures would then have to be approved by the City Council. Their next meeting is Tuesday. The agenda for that meeting is set on Friday.

"A lot of people feel they've been fighting an oppressive local government," said Ryan Hollander, a founding member of the cannabis alliance and owner of the LiveWell dispensary in Costa Mesa.

Like the 40 or so other marijuana storefronts in Costa Mesa, Hollander's business was shut down after federal authorities raided stores or sent letters ordering their closure earlier this year.

"We feel we can be a voice for the little guy," he said.

The initiative doesn't offer any guidelines for the city to crack down on storefronts that would operate at a profit.

Its main goal is to protect nonprofit dispensaries that provide marijuana to patients who need it, such as injured military veterans and cancer patients, cannabis alliance members said.

"We're saying, protect us from getting shut down," Hollander said.

Over the last four years, Costa Mesa police have targeted dispensaries that they said were egregiously violating the state's Compassionate Use Act which permitted medicinal marijuana collectives by operating as essentially storefront dealers.

Duarte asked for the U.S. attorney office's help late last year, leading to raids and notices to shut down in January.

The cannabis alliance launched its initiative efforts soon after. By April, volunteers were canvassing the community, gathering signatures.

Twitter: @JosephSerna

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