After successful petition, medical pot initiative comes before Del Mar council

By Claire Harlin

After collecting signatures of well over 10 percent of Del Mar voters, a political group dedicated to improving access to medical marijuana asked the Del Mar City Council on June 18 to adopt an ordinance allowing for medical marijuana dispensaries while also regulating and taxing them.

“Del Mar residents had the single highest voting record in favor of Prop 19 in 2010, which is a complete legalization measure. Almost 60 percent of residents voted in favor of it,” said James Schmachtenberger, president of the Patient Care Association, which brought forth the bill. “So if this measure is to go to the ballot, it’s pretty much definitive, I believe, that people will vote it in.”

While the group was hoping to bypass an election with immediate passage of the Compassionate Use Dispensary Regulation and Taxation Ordinance in order to serve medical pot patients in Del Mar sooner rather than possibly later, Del Mar officials opted to instead receive a report on the measure. By doing so, the City Council will have the choice to either adopt the ordinance within 10 days of receiving the report, to be issued by mid-July, or order an election.

More than 500 signatures were collected in Del Mar, said Cynara Velazquez of Citizens for Patients Rights. Only 298 were needed to qualify the ballot measure, which would go to vote in November.

Del Mar was the first city to qualify the initiative via petitioning, and the Patient Care Association expects to qualify ballot measures in Solana Beach and Lemon Grove by the end of the week and in Encinitas by the end of the month.

The proposed compassionate use dispensary ordinance would impose a 2.5 percent sales tax on medical pot to benefit the city’s general fund. Dispensaries would be regulated by the City of Del Mar’s planning department and operated by collectives, cooperatives, or associations of qualified patients and primary caregivers who cultivate, exchange and distribute medical cannabis in a closed circuit in compliance with state law, according to the proposed ordinance.

Councilman Don Mosier, a former physician, said he agrees that there are appropriate compassionate uses of medical cannabis, but passing the proposed measure in Del Mar would present a conundrum.

“If we were to accept this as written we would be in violation of federal law and therefore we would not be eligible for [federal] grants,” Mosier said. He pointed to projects such as the North Torrey Pines Bridge Project that depend on federal funding, which is only made available to cities in compliance with federal regulations. Furthermore, he said it’s also not clear if the ordinance would be in violation of state law because the petition wording is “ambiguous.”

In choosing to order a report on the ordinance — the only option besides adopting it or sending it to ballot immediately — the city can pick and choose what information it would like included in the report, as outlined in section 9212 of the California Elections Code.

The council brought up several points to be included: locations, zoning, safety implications, qualifications of prescribers, a legal analysis and taxing authority.

“This is an area of law that is developing, so I think we need the most comprehensive report possible,” mayor Carl Hilliard said.

Barbara Gordon, of the Torrey Pines High School Foundation, urged the council not to pass the ordinance, reminding city officials that marijuana is an illegal drug.

“More kids are smoking marijuana than they are smoking cigarettes,” she said. “It’s the No. 1 drug kids enter treatment programs for. If it’s sold out of a storefront, it gives the perception that it’s harmless and it’s not.”