County Validates Signatures, Initiative Legalizing Unlicensed Pasadena Marijuana Dispensaries Officially Qualifies for Ballot

Published : Monday, September 16, 2019 | 5:14 AM

City officials have gone to great lengths to close down Pasadena marijuana dispensaries which operate in violation of City ordinances. Pictured above is a November 2018 raid on Walnut Street during which police arrested four and seized cash and 168 pounds of marijuana at an illegal dispensary.

[UPDATED]  The Los Angeles County Registrar last week validated 9,138 signatures on an initiative that would legalize unlicensed, unconvicted and currently “illegal” marijuana dispensaries and thereby permit them to continue operations in Pasadena.

That’s enough signatures to officially qualify the initiative for the March 3, 2020 election.

If it were to become city law, the “People’s Initiative to Preserve the Existing Operation of Non-Offending Commercial Cannabis Businesses” would add another layer of complexity to an already tangled commercial cannabis permitting process that has seen accusations fly and lawsuits filed.

Tonight the now-validated initiative goes before Pasadena’s City Council where, according to City Clerk Mark Jomsky, the Councilmembers are faced with three options mandated by the State’s election code:

“Adopt the ordinance, without alteration, at the Council meeting at which the certification of the petition is presented, or within 10 days after it is presented, submit the ordinance, without alteration, to the voters or direct City staff to prepare a report on the impacts of the proposed initiative measure within 30 days of the certification of the petition.”

If the Council chooses to ask City staff to prepare a report on the impacts of the proposed measure on the city, that report must come back and be heard by the Council before October 11.

That process ends with the same State requirement that, after the report is presented, the City Council “shall either adopt the ordinance within 10 days or order an election.”

Despite 3,792 signatures disqualified by the County Registrar, initiative supporters had enough signatures to force the issue to the ballot.

“On September 11, 2019, the LA County Registrar reported that County staff reviewed 12,930 submitted petition signatures and validated 9,138 to be the signatures of registered voters in the City of Pasadena,” Jomsky reported. “This amount exceeds the minimum 10% threshold required for the initiative petition to be deemed sufficient.”

The City has worked for years to shut down dispensaries operating without a license, even invoking threats to shut off utilities at those shops.

During that cleaning-house process, City officials announced that illegal operators that refused to shut down would not be granted a business license after the city passed its own ordinance in June 2018.

The initiative would change the landscape by allowing those previously illegal cannabis businesses which continued to operate in contravention of City ordinances but which were without criminal convictions during calendar year 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,” according to the initiative.

“Non-offending commercial cannabis businesses operating without a permit pursuant to this subdivision shall not be deemed, ordered discontinued, modified, or removed as a public nuisance pursuant to the Pasadena Municipal Code based solely on their engagement in commercial cannabis activities permitted by this Chapter. Owners of non-offending commercial cannabis businesses operating without a permit pursuant to this subdivision may apply for a commercial cannabis permit from the city of Pasadena at any time. After December 31, 2024, all commercial cannabis businesses may operate only after such businesses apply for and receive a commercial cannabis permit pursuant to this Chapter.”

The City has established a strict and complex set of procedures for new applicants to apply for a proper commercial cannabis permit in Pasadena.

Earlier this year, the City qualified six applicants to proceed in the process of obtaining full permitting for operation in Pasadena, but that process has been problematic.

Several of the business that did not receive approval to operate in Pasadena have complained about the process and dozens of lawsuits could be filed.

So far only three businesses have successfully applied for conditional use permits to actually open retail storefronts and according to Planning Director David Reyes restrictions in the City’s existing ordinance could end up defining only those three as legally acceptable.

Those rules could be out the door if voters approve the initiative.

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