Council Votes to Prepare New Marijuana Regulation Initiative

Proposed June ballot measure could allow, but tightly regulate sales and distribution; a separate measure would address taxation on the sales

Published : Tuesday, January 23, 2018 | 6:31 AM

Pasadena City Council

In an effort to head off further attempts at initiatives or voter referendums by marijuana dispensary proponents, the City Council Monday unanimously approved a motion to take steps to prepare its own initiatives for the June 5, 2018 ballot to regulate cannabis sales and taxation in Pasadena.

Any new ordinance proposed by the process would essentially rewrite land use ordinances passed last year that outlawed the sale or distribution of recreation and medicinal marijuana in the City.

An ordinance regarding taxation on marijuana sales would be created separately, the Council also decided.

The new ordinances are an attempt by the City to regulate marijuana sales under “our rules,” as opposed to proponents’ rules, said Planning Director David Reyes.

The City Council’s original decision to ban commercial cannabis sales came after what was essentially a year-long discussion with the community to develop cannabis regulations, which included meetings before the Planning Commission, the Economic Development and Technology Committee and the City Council.

The City Council had eventually determined that Pasadena would take a “measured” approach to the legalization of cannabis due to concerns about the potential impacts of commercial cannabis activity on the City.

Based on Ordinance No. 7313, sales of recreational or medicinal marijuana are currently illegal in the City.

Pasadena experimented with various methods of cracking down on illegal dispensaries last year, including fines, code enforcement orders, and threatening to shut off water and power to owners of properties which housed the dispensaries.

In early December, marijuana proponents attempted to secure signatures for a referendum that would essentially nullify the City’s land use ordinances, but failed.

According to a City staff report, had the referendum been found to be sufficient, the City Council would either have have had to repeal Ordinance No. 7313 or submit the ordinance to a vote of the people for approval. The Los Angeles County Registrar of Voters, however, recently notified the City Clerk’s Office that the referendum contained an insufficient number of valid signatures to be successful.

Therefore Ordinance No. 7313 remains in place, further strengthening the City’s existing cannabis ban, the report said.

Following the failure of the referendum, the proponents then submitted a Notice of Intention on December 20 to circulate an initiative measure to the City Clerk’s office with regulations that would allow commercial cannabis businesses to operate in the City, as well as a taxation component for legal cannabis sales.

City Manager Steve Mermell, whose office helped prepare the staff report presented to the Council last night, told the Council that marijuana dispensary proponents would not be ready for the June ballot, and would likely attempt to place something on the November ballot, which could be preempted by a City ordinance.

During the hour-long discussion, Councilmember Margaret McAustin, while acknowledging that she “didn’t want to cede our authority to the dispensary owners,” suggested that the Council simply begin to create its own ordinance, which would contain the necessary regulations, as opposed to accepting the City staff recommendation. But City Clerk Mark Jomsky explained that any new ordinance would need to be ready by February 26, in order to qualify for the June 2018 ballot.

Mayor Terry Tornek and Reyes noted that in the meantime, dispensary owners could continue to create petitions for referendums and initiatives of their own unless the City amended its current regulations. Reyes also explained that the new recommended ordinance would contain language which would prevent proponents from continuing to attempt new initiatives to overturn the law.

As Mayor Tornek considered a suggestion from resident Emanuel Najera that the Council should “take its time” and not be rushed into a new ordinance, Councilmember Victor Gordo argued that the Council should approve the recommendation, with an open option to modify the language.

“That way, if the ordinance contains everything we want, we will have it ready,” he said.

Mayor Tornek agreed with the rest of the Council.

Planning Director Reyes, meanwhile, reassured Mayor Tornek more than once that the Planning Department, the Police Department, and the City Attorney’s office had been working on the issue for some time.

Reyes added that the proposed ordinance would be very narrowly worded with limited dispensaries allowed to open.

“There might only be three allowed at first,” he told the Council. “And then maybe only a total of nine.”

Reyes also noted that the new regulations would target dispensary owners, not locations or business names, which tend to change often.

Councilmember Gordo offered that the Education and Technology Committee has had “robust discussions” concerning the issue, and felt that legislation could be prepared in time. But Gordo asked for assurances that any new ordinance would regulate marijuana packaging, to avoid dispensaries marketing to children.

In arguing for the June ballot measure, Mermell said he felt that voters might have tired of the issue by November, and that preparing an ordinance for the June ballot might prevent the City from going head to head with marijuana proponents on the issue in November.

Regardless of the vote of the June ballot, the City Council will also be developing a marijuana taxation ordinance, should marijuana sales be allowed later this year.