Encinitas cannabis measure headed for ballot in 2020

Laboratory Director Jaclyn Mauser holds a marijuana flower at Pharm Labs in San Diego.
(Hayne Palmour IV / U-T)

Encinitas voters will get to weigh in again in 2020 on an initiative that would allow a range of cannabis-related activities in the city, from storefronts to cultivation to cannabis kitchens where edible marijuana-laced products would be made.

The Encinitas City Council took up the issue at its meeting on Wednesday, Aug. 16, following the submission of a citizens' initiative in June, which included petitions containing about 6,100 signatures. The county Registrar of Voters' office validated the petitions, concluding that at least 4,040 were from registered Encinitas voters, or 10 percent of the city's voter base.

On Wednesday, the council had the option of adopting the proposed initiative, putting it to a public vote or ordering a legal analysis of the measure. By a unanimous vote, the council opted to put the measure before voters in 2020. The election could not be held this fall because the Aug. 10 deadline for submitting ballot measures for the November election had already passed.

In 2014, city voters rejected a similar measure put forward by the San Diego-based Association of Cannabis professionals, the same group that organized the current initiative. In 2016, though, 65 percent of Encinitas voters approved state Prop. 64, which legalized recreational marijuana in the state. Speakers Wednesday said that was the largest margin of approval of any city in San Diego County.

Before making its decision Wednesday, the council heard speakers on both sides of the issue; those who support the initiative, touting the health benefits of cannabis for a variety of ailments, and opponents who said the relaxation of cannabis laws could lead to more use by minors.

The initiative, if it passes, would allow four retail marijuana storefronts in commercial zones; cultivation in agricultural zones; and manufacturing and production operations in business parks and light industrial zones.

The storefronts would have to be at least 1,000 feet from schools, daycare centers or playgrounds; they could operate from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily, and security guards and other safety measures would be required.

Council members said that although they supported putting the measure before voters, they were against adopting the initiative as an ordinance.

"This ordinance exceeds anything we've considered," said Councilman Joe Mosca.

"I think the initiative probably goes too far, it's too comprehensive," said Councilwoman Tasha Boerner Horvath.

Councilman Tony Kranz, who served on a subcommittee with Mosca to explore allowing dispensaries and other cannabis-related issues, said he heard passionate arguments from both sides of the issue. He said he came to the discussion with an open mind, noting that in college he had experienced many opportunities to consume marijuana, such as at a Bob Marley concert he attended in 1979.

Kranz said he concluded the best way to resolve the issue is to let voters decide.

"We're experiencing a change of culture. I don't think it's something we should force on one side or the other," Kranz said.

Mayor Catherine Blakespear said she also supported putting the issue before voters, and that she wants to see an analysis of land-use issues related to cannabis production and sales, as well as consideration of a companion ballot measure that would ask voters if they want to tax marijuana sales if the cannabis initiative passes.

Council members also said they want to look at public safety issues as well.

Councilman Mark Muir said he favored putting the issue on the ballot in 2020, with a timely analysis so voters can make an informed decision. He also noted that he, too, had seen a Bob Marley concert, although has never smoked marijuana.

In response to comments by members of the public, Blakespear said she would be willing to move forward with a separate ordinance that would allow legal marijuana delivery to homes in Encinitas, similar to a measure approved in Oceanside.

However, Mosca said state officials are currently considering new rules that would allow cannabis delivery throughout California, which potentially could take effect before an Encinitas ordinance could be approved and enacted.

The council directed City Manager Karen Brust to come back with a timeline for completing a report on the proposed initiative, as well as an estimate of the cost of hiring an outside consultant to conduct the analysis.