A controversial measure to allow medical marijuana dispensaries to operate in Lemon Grove may be poised to make history. Getting the issue on the ballot, however, may take a little longer than proponents of the cause anticipate.
If a petition effort to bring the businesses to the city is qualified by the Registrar of Voters, it is likely the first time in Lemon Grove’s nearly 35-year history that a voter-driven initiative has been put on the ballot.
City Clerk Susan Garcia said she was not aware of an initiative put before voters here as the result of a signature-gathering campaign. Garcia has been city clerk since 1999.
Citizens for Patient Rights, the San Diego-based organization spearheading the petition drive, submitted more than 3,000 signatures supporting the measure on Monday, as well as an addendum letter calling for a special election, said spokeswoman Cynara Velazquez. The petition has been turned over to the Registrar for verification, a process that may take up to 30 days.
The group needs 1,754 signatures of registered voters in Lemon Grove to qualify the initiative for the ballot. Lemon Grove is among by the organization’s expansion effort. Proposals were also filed in La Mesa, Solana Beach, Encinitas and Del Mar.
In question is whether the group has properly filed a request for a special election—a move that could cost the city $100,000 to carry out, according to Jim Lough, the city’s attorney.
In announcing the end of its Lemon Grove petition drive, Citizens for Patient Rights said Monday it had filed a formal request for a special election as part of the initiative petition.
But Lough says election law states a call for putting the ordinance to an immediate vote must be included on the petition people sign, so that they know they are asking for a special election.
“From our reading of the initiative they have not asked for a special election,” Lough said. “You can’t ask for it after everyone has signed it. It must be in the initiative language.”
Velazquez says the sum of the documents submitted, including their addendum, is what comprises the petition.
“The notice of intent, the published announcement, the title and summary,” Velazquez said. “All those things together make up what is the initiative petition.”
If enough signatures are verified to place the issue on the ballot, the City Council has three options:
- Adopt the ordinance into law at the regular meeting at which the certification of the petition is presented, which is expected to be Aug. 7;
- Put the measure on the ballot for a vote;
- Order a report on the issue.
“Councils typically ask for a study so they know the impact,” Lough said.
The issue becomes whether it goes on a ballot this November or in the next election cycle in 2014, he said.
“Are you going to adopt it, put it on the November ballot, or postpone a decision to study it?” he said. “I don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Velazquez said the question at hand is which ballot the City Council will chose—the November election or a special election.
“We don’t assume in this case that they plan to pass it directly,” she said.
On whether the group had properly requested a special election, Velazquez changed course slightly.
“Regardless of the legality, it would be more convenient to be on the regular election ballot (this November),” she said. “The regular election is our preference as well. None of us want to incur the expense on Lemon Grove.”