By Claire Harlin
Solana Beach on July 25 became the second of several small cities in San Diego County to order a November election for an initiative that would allow medical marijuana dispensaries, as well as the city’s regulation and taxation of them.
Under the state’s initiative process, the city had the choice of either passing the ordinance brought forth by the Patient Care Association or sending it to ballot after the advocacy group collected signatures of the necessary 10 percent — or about 800 — of Solana Beach voters. The Solana Beach council voted unanimously to hold an election.
Similar petitions have been validated in Lemon Grove, Encinitas and La Mesa, and the Del Mar City Council faced the same choice on July 20 when it became the first city in the county to put the issue on the ballot.
Like Del Mar, Solana Beach council members were not unanimous in their support for the initiative but expressed that they had no choice. The council heard more than two hours of testimony for and against medical pot, both from patients whose lives have greatly improved from medical marijuana and opponents who fear heightened marijuana use by young people, among other concerns.
Much concern from officials, however, is centered around the wording of the ordinance. The ordinance imposes a 2.5 percent sales tax on medical marijuana, when state sales tax law mandates a uniform sales tax of no more than 1 percent on all goods. The ordinance is also in violation of federal law, which states marijuana consumption is illegal.
Critics have also said the ordinance should include more enforcement tools, such as inspections, product testing and record-keeping.
“The issue here is not to debate the pros or cons or validity of use of medical marijuana,” said Councilman Tom Campbell. “That’s not what’s before us. What’s relevant today is that we have two options and we need to make a decision with how to go forward.”
Councilman Mike Nichols said there is always the option of a post-election challenge if the initiative passes in November and there are discrepancies with the ordinance, but as for now, “the public put this on the ballot and the public should have a right to vote on it.”
Mayor Joe Kellejian shared his personal thoughts, that medical marijuana should be dispensed not through cooperatives but through facilities such as established clinics and hospitals.
“My job on the council is to protect the health, safety and welfare of the community, and I don’t believe putting this type of business — and it is a business — in Solana Beach will in any way protect our community,” said Kellejian, adding that he will work with every resource he has to oppose putting dispensaries in Solana Beach.
Councilwoman Lesa Heebner thanked the dozens of people who shared their very passionate and personal stories with the council.
“It will be your job to make those cases again during the election,” she said.