Pasadena City Councilmembers Ask Court to Block Initiative Legalizing Unlicensed Marijuana Shops From Going Before Voters

Published : Wednesday, November 27, 2019 | 5:03 AM

In an unusual procedural move, members of the Pasadena City Council have filed a court action naming Pasadena City Clerk Mark Jomsky and the County Registrar of Voters in an effort to block or stop a cannabis initiative from being put on the ballot for voters.

The initiative would allow some 18 marijuana retailers who operated in violation of the Pasadena Municipal Code to temporarily continue operations without going through the current permitting process and without having to comply with any of the City’s current distance requirements.

The 9,138 signatures collected by initiative backers were enough to qualify the initiative for the March 3, 2020 election ballot.

The City Council’s lawsuit asks the court to prohibit Jomsky and Logan from including the initiative on the ballot for the March 3, 2020 election and from taking any further action to print the ballots, sample ballots, or other election materials that contain the initiative.

The suit also asks the court to declare the initiative is unconstitutional, invalid, and unenforceable.

Mayor Terry Tornek and all the City Councilmembers except Councilmember Tyron Hampton are plaintiffs in the lawsuit. (Hampton voted against supporting the lawsuit in closed session.)

In order to prevent the initiative from advancing Jomsky must be named in the lawsuit according to City Attorney Michele Beal Bagneris.

“The City Clerk and the County Registrar of Voters are not accused of any wrongdoing and are named in the lawsuit only as a technical procedural matter, because any ruling from the Court ordering the Initiative to be removed from the ballot would have to be directed towards them,” Bagneris said.

“The proponents of the Initiative, who are sued as the Real Parties in Interest, are the parties who will have to defend the validity of the Initiative.”

Mayor Terry Tornek echoed Bagneris’ statement and said the City Council has no issues with Jomsky or his performance but had to name his as a party to the litigation since he was the person who filed the ballot language on behalf of the city.

The initiative would allow 18 dispensaries to operate in Pasadena without going through the city’s approval process and in opposition to the city’s cannabis process Measure CC approved by the voters in November.

“A coalition of cannabis retailers that had been operating illegally within the City in 2018 have now submitted to the Pasadena City Clerk a proposed initiative measure that would brazenly exempt themselves – and only themselves – from the City’s permitting requirement, granting them the special and exclusive privilege to operate marijuana dispensaries without having to obtain a permit and without having to comply with City restrictions on the location of cannabis businesses, such as those voter-approved zoning laws imposing separation and distance requirements from sensitive uses like schools, places of worship, and residential zones. Perversely, the Initiative expressly states that all other marijuana retailers – which have not violated city laws and regulations- must obtain permits and abide by these location restrictions and other requirements,” the lawsuit states.

A proponent said the lawsuit is being used to circumvent the will of the people.

“I think it’s criminal for the city to thwart the will of the people. The city forced an improper ordinance down the throat of the residents and they were so eager to approve cannabis that they accepted the only option the city was willing to draft,” said Shaun Szameit, of Golden State Collective. “Now that signatures have been certified to right the wrong of the City they are trying to be creative to sabotage and eliminate the inclusion of the local operators.”

Pasadena police raided Golden State Collective and arrested three of its staff members and seized more than two dozen pounds of its cannabis-related products.

However, the City has stated that the will of the people was expressed on June 5, 2018 when 60 percent of the local voters that went to the polls approved Measure CC which reversed the City’s ban on cannabis.

Measure CC, mandates no more than six cannabis dispensaries be allowed to operate in Pasadena, one in each Council district and also prohibits dispensaries from operating within certain distances from schools, churches and neighborhoods.

The city previously worked to shut down the 18 businesses that were selling cannabis in town without permits. Several of them refused to shut down even after the city warned them they would not be allowed to legally sell cannabis in Pasadena if they continued to break the law.

Measure CC was placed on the ballot after several of those operators unsuccessfully circulated a petition that would have ended the City’s ban on cannabis at the time.