Judge Sides with Pasadena, Marijuana Measure Blocked From March Ballot

Published : Thursday, December 12, 2019 | 4:57 PM

City of Pasadena's legal team and City Clerk Mark Jomsky leave the courtroom after proceedings on Thursday.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mary H. Strobel on Thursday granted the City of Pasadena’s request for a writ of mandate which orders the removal from the March 2020 ballot of a measure to legalize certain unlicensed marijuana shops in Pasadena.

The measure, called “An Initiative to Allow Operation of Cannabis Businesses That Previously Operated Illegally, In Violation of the Pasadena Municipal Code,” which had qualified for the ballot last month, could have allowed 18 unlicensed cannabis shops in Pasadena the right to bypass the City’s current ordinances and remain open. The measure could have been in effect for five years if passed by voters.

In her tentative decision, Judge Strobel said that the cannabis initiative “mandates actions that are administrative and adjudicative. Thus, it is an improper exercise of the initiative power.”

Asked about the tentative decision, Pasadena City Attorney Michelle Bagneris said, “Pre-election challenges are always an uphill battle. So there was uncertainty, but we had a very strong case.”

Pasadena had asked the court for the writ to prevent its own city clerk, Mark Jomsky, and Dean Logan, Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk for Los Angeles, from placing the proposed ballot measure on the upcoming ballot. The case moved quickly through the court system because of an impending printing deadline of January 3 for the March 2020 municipal election ballots.

According to attorney Fredric Woocher, Pasadena raised two grounds in the case — the first was that the measure violated a specific provision in the California Constitution that prohibits naming or identifying private corporations to “perform any function or to have any power of duty.” In other words, the initiative would have given power or special treatment to a select group of businesses in the City, said attorney Woocher, who argued on behalf of the City of Pasadena.

The City also argued, said Woocher, that the subject was not appropriate for an initiative, because “an initiative is only permissible with respect to legislative matters, and not an adjudicative matter.”

Had the initiative set out to change zoning laws or codes, with regard to cannabis sales, said Woocher, that would have been permissible. But, said Woocher, the initiative only said that the City’s existing cannabis regulations do not apply to the 18 unlicensed cannabis dealers.

“They tried to carve out a unique benefit for themselves,” Woocher continued, “and say that ‘Everyone else has to comply with the initiative, but we guys, who are operating illegally, [don’t have to.]’ They weren’t amending the law in general, they were going to create a special category.”

Woocher continued, “[The unpermitted cannabis dealers] wanted to be grandfathered into the City. There ‘s no doctrine that allows for grandfathering in illegal uses.”

“The court said, ‘It’s an invalid measure and we’re not going to submit it to the voters’” said Woocher.

Asked if the initiative could return in a few years, City Attorney Michele Bagneris said, “We wouldn’t be surprised if there was another initiative measure circulated” in the next election cycle. Bagneris added, however, that the Judge’s ruling was “pretty broad,” and that “someone would have to submit something totally different.”

Former Golden State Collective President Shaun Szaimet, whose Pasadena shop was raided by police last year, said following the decision that he was “disappointed,” and that “the cannabis community would now have to take the battle directly to the City Council election.”

Szaimet is now a partner in The Vault, a Cathedral City cannabis shop.

The ballot measure was the latest wrinkle in the City’s ongoing battle with illegal cannabis shops. Sixteen of 18 shops in the City have now been ordered closed.

The City’s strict Measure CC ordinance, which regulates the number of cannabis shops to six—one in each Council district—has resulted in no cannabis shops actually opening for business yet, as the law sets down certain distance regulations and location requirements.

In addition, some shops have found themselves battling to open shops in the same district as others. Pasadena’s “first-come, first-served” rule has also resulted in some shops suing each other as well as the City, to gain a sufficient toehold into the lucrative local cannabis market.

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