By Benjie Cooper
YouTube: Lucid’s Vlog
For the past few months, the Vista City Council has been under increasing pressure to come up with a solution to the city’s dispensary zoning problem. With the reality of voter-approved recreational marijuana in California, and new state medical cannabis regulations coming in 2018, the city is being forced to make a decision about something they can no longer try to fix with police raids and asset forfeiture.
In February, local citizen group Vistans for Safe Community Access (VSCA) submitted an initiative that would set up a local licensing and regulation system for medical marijuana outlets, but the Vista City Clerk rejected it after discovering that the title of the proposal was missing from some pages. California election law requires each page to bear the title of the initiative that a person is signing. The group submitted nearly 1,400 more signatures than the required 5,600, but because of the erroneous pages, much of the initiative was invalidated and ultimately rejected. The proposal would have allowed for the operation of at least ten dispensaries in Vista and implemented a 7% tax rate on sales. With close to 100,000 residents in the city, there would be about one dispensary per 10,000 people.
VSCA is currently gathering new signatures for the initiative, but the council is not satisfied with its terms. They are currently working on their own city-drafted ordinance which allows for the licensing and operation of just two dispensaries in Vista, or one per 50,000 residents. Under their proposal, the city would also get to select the two medical marijuana providers. If the VSCA initiative gathers enough signatures, a special election may be held.
In an attempt to get a better idea of residents’ feelings on the matter, the city council is commissioning a $35,000 poll to be conducted by an independent outside company. At a meeting in late April, council members discussed polling locals, then at a May 9 session, they decided to go ahead with the survey. Councilman Joe Green was absent that evening, but other members in attendance voted 3-1 to pay for the study. Amanda Rigby voted against the poll, uncomfortable with the possibility of licensing something that is currently illegal at the federal level.
But fears of intervention from on high would appear to be unwarranted at this point. The federal government isn’t allocating financial resources to keeping medical marijuana states in-line with their policies anymore. Without funding, the federal raids just aren’t going to happen. Local governments are the only ones doing that kind of thing now. There is currently an attorney general in office who is a vocal opponent of cannabis, but he answers directly to a President who believes in state rights for medical marijuana, so it is unlikely to see any action against medical states from federal agencies in the near future, if at all. Additionally, a bipartisan group of congressmen introduced HR 1227, the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2017, earlier this year. If the bill passes, it will eliminate penalties for cannabis possession and cultivation as well as give states the power to create their own marijuana policies without fear of federal intervention.
Given the current state of things in Washington D.C., the city of Vista should have very little to worry about when it comes to Uncle Sam meddling in local medical marijuana affairs. Council members have commissioned a poll that will tell them what their residents think. If their proposal is the one that ends up being enacted instead of VSCA’s, they will need to ensure that the rules are fair to all those involved and meet the needs of the patients. Otherwise, the pointless legal battles will continue until a proper agreement can be reached or the council is replaced.