Local cannabis ballot measures ignite debates on local control, crime

The electoral push to expand the cannabis industry into more California cities includes Nov. 3 ballot measures in Solana Beach and Encinitas, which have both led to debates on local control, crime and other potential issues.

A marijuana leaf on a plant at a cannabis grow in Gardena, Calif., in 2019.
A marijuana leaf on a plant at a cannabis grow in Gardena, Calif., in 2019.
(Associated Press)

In Solana Beach, Measure S would allow up to two cannabis dispensaries in the city. A similar ballot measure in Encinitas, Measure H, would allow four cannabis retail businesses.

Cannabis sales are currently banned in both cities, but more than 60% of voters in each of them approved Proposition 64, a statewide ballot measure in 2016 that legalized use of cannabis by adults who are at least 21 and allowed recreational cannabis dispensaries to open.

“Prop. 64 passing does strongly indicate that most people believe marijuana should be legal for personal consumption,” said Solana Beach City Councilman David Zito, who opposes Measure S. “But that does not at all mean that there’s a strong desire for it to be any easier to get or that it should be just down the street from me.”

Opponents are also concerned about the lack of local control. If the Encinitas and Solana Beach ballot measures pass, they can’t be amended by either of the city councils. Hours of operation, proximity to schools and zones in each city where dispensaries are allowed to open are among the key factors that would be determined by the measures. In Encinitas, there is an exception that allows the council to make certain adjustments after three years.

“Even if 99.9% of our residents find this impactful or disruptive, we can’t do anything about it,” Solana Beach City Councilwoman Kelly Harless said. “Once it’s passed it becomes law and the only way residents can change it is by sponsoring their own citizens initiative.”

Before supporting Proposition 64, about 60% of Solana Beach voters rejected a 2012 citywide ballot measure that would have allowed medical cannabis dispensaries. Over the past few months, several residents have spoken against Measure S during public comment at every City Council meeting. Zito and Harless signed onto the official ballot argument against the measure, and Solana Beach Deputy Mayor Judy Hegenauer is one of the signers of the rebuttal to the arguments in favor of it.

“My sense is whether or not they want dispensaries here in Solana Beach, they certainly don’t want dispensaries that they have no control over and no say in,” Harless said.

Since Proposition 64 passed, big cities such as San Diego, Los Angeles and San Francisco have embraced recreational cannabis businesses. But many smaller cities have banned them.

The cannabis industry has turned to the ballot box to change that.

Including Encinitas and Solana Beach, there are 38 cannabis-related ballot measures throughout the state on Nov. 3, according to a list compiled by California NORML, a pro-cannabis nonprofit. Many of them would allow cannabis businesses in cities that previously banned them.

The Solana Beach measure would add a 1.25% local tax in addition to the existing 7.25% state tax and other applicable taxes. In Encinitas, the measure does not add a local tax.

In Encinitas, most of the campaign funding in support of the measure has come from Urbn Leaf, a dispensary in the city of San Diego, which made contributions of $20,000 and $19,500 to two different committees, according to campaign finance disclosures. A marketing rep for Urbn Leaf did not respond to a request for comment by press time.

Campaign finance disclosures for Measure S in Solana Beach were not available as of press time.

Opponents of the measure point to the effects that cannabis businesses could have on their communities.

The Solana Beach official ballot argument against the initiative refers to a Colorado study that found crime increases ranging from 26% to more than 1,400% in neighborhoods with commercial cannabis. Lorine A. Hughes, an associate professor at University of Colorado Denver who led the study, told the Crime and Justice Research Alliance, “we also found that the strongest associations between dispensaries and crime weakened significantly over time.”

The official ballot argument against the Encinitas initiative says that commercial property values could decrease. But 67% of realtors said they did not see a change in commercial property values in states where recreational and medical cannabis has been legal since 2016, according to a National Association of Realtors survey from February. There were also 15% who said values slightly increased, and 10% who said values slightly decreased.

Jeffrey Anshel, an optometrist and Encinitas resident since 1977, is among the supporters of the ballot measure.

“I know people in the industry who are good, honest, hardworking people who look at it as a source of income and a good product and service to offer people who need it,” he said.

Encinitas resident Robert Jordan Hall petitioned to put the initiative on the ballot. He, Anshel, county Supervisor Nathan Fletcher and two other Encinitas residents who signed the official ballot argument in favor of Measure H said the cannabis businesses will bolster the local economy.

“New businesses will create jobs for residents and generate sales taxes for the City,” they wrote in the official ballot argument for the measure. “Current and past local employers receive an advantage in seeking retail licenses. By allowing cultivation of cannabis and industrial hemp, local farmers will have a new and needed source of revenue.”

Joshua Clark, the proponent of the Solana Beach initiative, declined an interview. He petitioned for the initiative on behalf of an organization called Alliance for Safe Access, which listed a Solana Beach address. In an email, Clark highlighted tax revenue, creating an alternative to black market sales and the regulations that are included in the ordinance that would be enacted if the ballot measure passes.

“This initiative was actually drafted keeping in mind the local government’s need for regulation and oversight,” he said. “This is a 33 page document full of regulations and rules in favor of the city, that provide more than a reasonable level of local oversight. In contrast the city of Costa Mesa that has cannabis measure Q on the ballot this Nov, it is only 2 pages long! Our elected officials serve on our behalf. With a voter lead initiative on the ballot I would expect the city council to be eagerly awaiting for the results of this vote so they can implement the wishes of the citizens.”

Updates:

11:11 AM, Oct. 26, 2020: Updated with additional information about the Measure S petitioner.


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