Petition to Legalize Pasadena's Unlicensed Marijuana Dispensaries Gathers Enough Signatures to Qualify for March Ballot

Initiative could throw monkey wrench into City’s current commercial cannabis licensing and zoning process

Published : Monday, August 5, 2019 | 4:45 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.

Add a new wrinkle to Pasadena’s increasingly discordant commercial cannabis permitting process.

A petition to legalize some marijuana dispensaries operating in Pasadena before the City’s official licensing process was instituted has garnered 12,900 signatures, which is enough to qualify for the March 3, 2020 municipal ballot if at least 8,542 of the signatures are verified.

The proponents turned in the signatures last Wednesday, July 31, according to a memorandum City Clerk Mark Jomsky sent to City Councilmembers which Pasadena Now has obtained.

Jomsky reported to the Council he has sent the initiative petition to the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk for official verification of petition signatures.  There will not be an official determination on whether this petition has qualified for another five to six weeks.

If authorized, the petition would allow the voters of Pasadena directly to decide if so-called illegal cannabis businesses which continued to operate in contravention of City ordinances but without criminal convictions during calendar year 2018 should be permitted to continue to operate in their present locations.

Councilmember Victor Gordo, who helped author the City’s current Cannabis ordinance, was quick to criticize the initiative effort.

“This is another attempt to fool the people of Pasadena, and I believe that the electorate will see that,” said Gordo.

“I support the lawful sale of cannabis,” Gordo said Friday. “And I believe that anyone who has followed the rules and has adhered to the will of the people in allowing the lawful sale of cannabis should be allowed to sell cannabis. Anyone who has refused to follow the rules, should not be rewarded for their bad behavior.”

Mayor Terry Tornek also criticized the petition and the organizers’ efforts, saying, “It’s been worth a lot of money to them and they see an opportunity, one last gasp opportunity, to stay in business.”

“They were not successful in being allowed to reconstitute themselves legally. So they’ve turned to the only alternative that they have. And if you pay money to signature gatherers, they can typically gather the signatures you need.”

The City’s current ordinance was passed on June 5, 2018 and created a strict set of restrictions and licensing requirements and capped the number of licensed retail shops at six.

Before the licensing process was finalized, the City took a number of efforts to close all unlicensed cannabis retail shops then doing business in Pasadena, from issuing code enforcement violations to considering shutting off utilities, and in some cases deploying police to seize inventories and arrest employees.

The licensing process then created a grading system for new applicants (along with a complex list of requirements for qualifications).

Since the announcement of the six awardees, some losing applicants have pointed fingers at the City claiming the mismanagement of the licensing process and harshly criticized some license winners as being indefensible selections.

At least one applicant accused a successful finalist of leaving crucial information out of its application, in violation of the application process.

Up to 11 lawsuits against the City for its handling of the licensing process are reportedly being prepared.

Calls and emails to proponents of the petition for comment have not been returned.

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