Council leaves it to voters to decide pot’s fate in Encinitas

After months of deliberation and arguments from proponents and opponents, the Encinitas City Council on Wednesday, Oct. 18 decided the voters should decide whether marijuana should be cultivated and delivered in Encinitas.

The council ultimately voted 4-1 to place an initiative on the ballot regarding marijuana cultivation in agricultural zones and deliveries citywide, with council member Mark Muir dissenting.

They also agreed to place a ban on all marijuana activities in the city according to state law, maintaining the status quo, until the decision is made by the voters.

Deputy Mayor Tony Kranz — who originally said he favored cultivation in the city to support local farmers and avoid a potential ballot initiative, that has since been rescinded, from the Association of Cannabis Professionals — said at the meeting the voters should voice what Prop. 64 "meant to them." The proposition was passed in Encinitas by 65 percent and legalized the recreational use of marijuana in California in November 2016.

"There are all sorts of questions we need to have answered before we can make a recommendation," he said. "I think it's important we get the answers from the community."

Kranz said staff should write an ordinance to allow cultivation and manufacturing then have the voters decide on it.

Mayor Catherine Blakespear, who voted against Prop. 64, agreed with Kranz, adding the voters should also consider banning pesticides. She also said edibles should not be created in Encinitas, but growers should be allowed to manufacture the oil to use in other products, like creams.

Council member Tasha Boerner Horvath also agreed, saying the arguments between proponents and opponents created a "dual battle between David and Goliath."

She added, if approved by the voters, marijuana should be taxed in an amount to exceed the cost of putting an initiative on the ballot. She also urged a conditional use permit process for transparency and wanted to limit how many growing licenses a property owner can possess. She also wanted staff to survey other cities to see how they are keeping their agricultural businesses alive.

Council member Joe Mosca also said he generally does not support marijuana and does not favor the initiative idea, but would support it to let the public decide to remain committed to the will of the people.

Muir said he could not agree with his colleagues because a ballot initiative would be costly and because he believed marijuana would lead to increased crime and access for children.

He said five years ago he also voted with a previous Encinitas City Council to ban "spice," also known as synthetic marijuana.

"We banned fake marijuana, and now we're considering real marijuana," he said. "I see no benefit."

Cannabis has been a hot button issue at council meetings for months, with supporters and naysayers often flooding public comment periods to share their opinions.

The council in February created its Adult Use of Marijuana (AUMA) subcommittee, with Kranz and Council Member Joe Mosca appointed. The duo was tasked to return to the council with information about cultivation, delivery and whether the city should move forward with a scientific survey. Retail sales were not to be considered, as the council generally agreed storefronts did not belong in Encinitas.

At the subcommittee's last of three meetings, on Sept. 28, Kranz said he was generally in favor of cultivation to support local farmers. But Mosca — concerned about general safety, banking regulations and the ACP's possible ballot measure — said the city should ban the substance outright. Kranz said he could support delivery for medicinal uses only, but neither council member thought a survey could benefit the city.

The city was also challenged in August when the San Diego-based Association of Cannabis Professionals (ACP) informed the city of its intent to circulate a petition that, if it received enough signatures, would place a ballot measure for a local election to have residents decide if cultivation and storefronts should be allowed in Encinitas.

However, in a letter sent to the city clerk's office by Dallin Young, executive director of the ACP, the day before the council vote, the group rescinded its petition and intent for a ballot measure.

Young, at Wednesday's meeting, urged the council to not ban marijuana because, he said, illegal operators would continue regardless. He also said the group originally submitted the petition to pressure the council to make a decision before a January deadline, not to encourage a public vote. They decided to pull the initiative after hearing "discourse" from the public in past meetings, Young said.

"It has become very clear that people like to kick the can down the road when it comes to regulations," he said. "It is unfortunate some people would listen to a rather loud minority that prefer a status quo. ... If you pass a ban, the status quo is the black market."

He pushed for regulations so the products are tested and fewer teens have access to cannabis.

At past city council and AUMA subcommittee meetings, proponents and opponents have spent hours sharing ideas about how marijuana should be handled in Encinitas.

The approximately 300 attendees that overflowed the council chambers at Wednesday's council meeting, which followed an anti-drug Red Ribbon Week presentation, showed support on both sides wearing shirts reading "Support Encinitas farmers" and carrying anti-marijuana signs. About 100 speakers voiced their opinions.

Bob Echter, of Dramm & Echter Inc. in Encinitas, has pushed for Encinitas to allow farmers like him to cultivate the plant on their properties to keep their businesses booming and their employees working.

Echter said he would like to grow on a small portion of his 800,000-square-foot agricultural property to offset threats to the farming industry, like the rise of minimum wage and the scarcity of water.

Local children's author Michael Mahin contested most of the opponents were working off "false information" in regards to their concerns for youth.

"There is not a single study that links cultivation to increased usage among teens," he said. "It is the council's job to be smarter than us and rise above the emotional and subjective arguments and realize the facts."

Opponents have urged the council to not allow marijuana in the city to prevent access for children, crime and more DUIs.

Resident Doug Jones urged the council to not vote on marijuana now, as the city has other pressing issues to handle, such as moving to district elections and developing a state-certified housing element.

He questioned how the council could draft a decent marijuana ordinance while also juggling the other issues.

Another resident, Hugh Christianson, said cannabis should not be allowed to grow in the city due to its "stench" and potential to decrease nearby property values.

"Marijuana stinks," he said. "Stinking marijuana will more likely than not lead to the erosion of property values in Encinitas. Let the urban farmers pick up their skills and move to rural locations, not next to the golf course, not near my home."

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