Encinitas medical marijuana campaign heating up again
Two years ago, voters in Solana Beach, Del Mar and two other cities in the county rejected measures to allow medical marijuana dispensaries.
With a dispensary initiative going before voters this November in Encinitas, proponents are hopeful the political winds have shifted in their favor.
The Encinitas initiative gained enough signatures in 2012. But it barely missed the deadline to put it on the ballot that year.
The City Council then had the option of adopting the measure or sending it to a public vote. It chose the latter to watch how the other cities’ initiatives fared.
Resident James Schmachtenberger said the blown deadline was probably a blessing in disguise.
“Since then, the climate has changed dramatically,” Schmachtenberger said. “2012 was the height of the federal crackdown, scaring voters.”
Marijuana remains illegal under federal law. But in 2013, the federal Justice Department stated it won’t challenge states and local jurisdictions with medical and recreational marijuana laws, so long as the rules conform with enforcement priorities. The department said it’s focused on large trafficking cases and keeping the drug away from children.
Schmachtenberger said medical marijuana relieves chronic pain associated with cancer and other illnesses. It’s difficult to find safe access, since there aren’t legal dispensaries in North County, he added.
“A regulated dispensary is going to be more scrupulous than a delivery service or a black-market dealer,” Schmachtenberger said.
To sway voters, the Patient Care Association plans to host bi-weekly events in Encinitas leading up to the election.
“We just started ramping up fundraising and outreach,” he said.
Resident Nancy Logan, who has spoken against the initiative at several council meetings, doubted attitudes have changed much locally in two years.
“Encinitas is similar to Solana Beach in a lot of ways,” Logan said. “The people there didn’t want it hurting their city character. It’s a poor fit for our community as well.”
Logan argued that having dispensaries in Encinitas would normalize marijuana use and make it easier for teens to obtain.
“From what I’ve seen, sick people aren’t going to the pot shops,” she said.
The initiative would allow dispensaries in commercial and industrial zones, though they would be prohibited from operating within 1,000 feet of each other or within 600 feet of a school or playground.
The initiative would also forbid: medical marijuana evaluations on site; cannabis being visible from the exterior of a dispensary; and sales to those under the age of 18, unless the minor is a qualified patient accompanied by a guardian.
An additional 2.5 percent retail tax on medical marijuana would be collected and allocated to the city’s general fund.
In 2012, Del Mar’s city attorney said in an impact report that the 2.5 percent tax violated the law, because local governments can add up to only 1 percent in taxes. Consequently, if the measure had passed, the Board of Equalization would have ceased collecting taxes in the city, meaning the city would have needed additional staff to collect taxes, according to the report.
An impact report from Encinitas’ city attorney is due Aug. 16.
La Mesa will also consider a similar ballot initiative this November.
Based on city zoning maps, proponents estimate six or seven dispensaries might set up in Encinitas if the initiative wins approval. The El Camino Real corridor and Coast Highway 101 were identified as likely areas, Schmachtenberger said.
Of those running for mayor and the open council seat, he said only one candidate has weighed in so far. Mayoral candidate Alex Fidel is in favor of the measure.
Organizations supporting recreational marijuana legalization in California are reportedly gathering signatures for a 2016 ballot. Could a statewide measure help or hurt the Encinitas initiative’s chances?
Two political science professors at local universities said it’s tough to say given the lack of polling data available. They also weren’t familiar enough with the issue.
“Encinitas voters might support the concept of legalization, but having medical marijuana near the place you buy milk might be another matter,” said UC San Diego professor Gary Jacobson.
He added: “But I haven’t studied this issue in-depth, and I’m not sure of someone locally who has.”
Schmachtenberger believes it’s key that medical marijuana proponents vote for Encinitas’ initiative, because even if the statewide measure passes, up to two years could elapse before it’s implemented.
Meanwhile, the Encinitas initiative would take effect Jan. 1, 2015 and dispensaries could open as soon as next summer, he said.
Visit encinitasca.gov and click on the municipal elections tab for the full initiative text.
An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified James Schmachtenberger as the chairman of the Patient Care Association. However, the organization no longer exists. He’s a resident supporting the measure