Council Asks for Report on How Measure Legalizing Unlicensed Pasadena Marijuana Dispensaries Would Impact City

Measure could throw monkey wrench into City’s current cannabis permitting process if approved

Published : Tuesday, September 17, 2019 | 4:44 AM

The Pasadena City Council Monday unanimously agreed to direct City staff to prepare a report on the impact of a ballot initiative allowing previously “illegal” cannabis retailers to operate in the city.

The approved motion came on the heels of the approval of 9,138 signatures on an initiative to legalize unlicensed, unconvicted and currently “illegal” marijuana dispensaries. The proposed measure would permit them to operate in the City, alongside legal and licensed shops.

As presented by City Clerk Mark Jomsky, the Council was faced with three options— to adopt the ordinance at the Council meeting Monday, or within 10 days; to submit the ordinance to the voters for a vote on March 3, 2020, or ask for the report on the initiative’s impacts on the city if it were to be approved.

The staff report will now be prepared for presentation to the Council on October 7.

Should the initiative be placed on the ballot and win, the measure could effectively toss out years of work by the City to control cannabis sales through a tightly-managed application and licensing process. That process currently allows only six cannabis shops to operate in the City—one in each Council district.

The City’s cannabis ordinance also mandated that illegal operators would not be granted a business license after June 2018. The proposed initiative would allow previously unlicensed cannabis shops without criminal convictions during 2018 to continue to operate in their present locations.

“Non-offending commercial cannabis businesses may continue engaging in commercial cannabis activity within the city of Pasadena without a commercial cannabis permit from the city of Pasadena until December 31, 2024,” the initiative reads. Following that date, all shops would be required to obtain a City cannabis license.

The Council rejected allowing the initiative to become law out of hand, and also rejected allowing the initiative to automatically be placed on the ballot, at least not yet.

Councilmember Victor Gordo said he would not allow the initiative to “override the will of the people,” saying that the new initiative would affect a wide range of areas from schools and libraries, to land use, to infrastructure funding. Gordo then asked City Attorney Michelle Bagneris whether the City could introduce a countermeasure on next year’s ballot that would reaffirm the City’s current ordinance. Both Bagneris and City Clerk Jomsky confirmed that that was an option.

Councilmember Tyron Hampton disagreed with that idea, however, and Gordo said he was “just asking about the possibility.”

Both Councilmember Margaret McAustin and Councilmember Gordo also said that they were aware of reports of initiative signature-gatherers initiative “misleading” petition signers.

“They were telling them that it was a petition for rent control,” said Gordo.

While a number of residents and cannabis users spoke in favor of the initiative, at least one resident, Clarissa Rezendez, criticized the unlicensed dealers, claiming that some “unethical and immoral” unlicensed shops do not follow labor laws. Rezendez said she was aware of numerous reports of friends and family members who had worked “sixteen-hour days” at the shops, without overtime and without meal breaks.

Rezendez said the illegal shops operate with impunity since they are unregulated.

“They don’t need to follow rights. They’re illegal,” she told the Council.

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