Will pot stores become the toke of the town, or will a measure aimed at bringing the business to Lemon Grove go up in smoke?
The Lemon Grove City Council heard opposing views Tuesday night on an effort to expand the presence of medical marijuana dispensaries beyond the city of San Diego.
A representative from the group spearheading the petition drive to put an initiative on the local ballot in November told council members the effort’s focus is providing medical marijuana patients with safe access to the product.
Lemon Grove does not currently allow medical marijuana dispensaries.
Roberto Torres of Citizens for Patient Rights said the city would benefit from increased sales tax revenue. He told council members a 2.5 percent tax on medical marijuana transactions in Lemon Grove could boost the city’s coffers by nearly $97,000.
Lemon Grove is among by the group’s expansion effort. Proposals were also filed in La Mesa, Solana Beach, Encinitas and Del Mar.
To gather enough signatures to place the measure on the November ballot, volunteers hit the streets over the weekend to gather community support at local businesses and by going door to door for the cause.
Cynara Velazquez, a campaign consultant for Citizens for Patient Rights, said the group chose Lemon Grove based on positive voting results from Proposition 19, the initiative to legalize pot that was defeated by voters in 2010.
“We’re not looking to make Lemon Grove a dispensary capital,” Velazquez said. “Our focus is on safe access.”
The initiative would regulate storefront dispensaries, setting where they can be located, hours of operation, security measures and licensing.
Opponents of the measure say the storefront operations are illegal—and an invitation to crime because they house large amounts of both marijuana and cash.
“Whenever you have those two valuable things in the same place, you’ll protect it,” said Dana Stevens, communications and development manager of Communities Against Substance Abuse.
Guns are often kept on hand inside dispensaries, according to Stevens, and are used to rob the establishments and their customers as they come and go.
Pot stores began popping up after California voters passed Proposition 215 in 1996, legalizing medical marijuana use. Nearly 56 percent of voters favored letting patients with a doctor’s approval have and grow the plant for medical use.
Stevens says the legislation does not allow for retail sale, however, and that the word “dispensary” does not appear in the measure. Further, dispensaries facilitate a fraudulent medical use of the drug.
“There’s nothing about this product that makes it medical,” Stevens said. “It’s the same marijuana that’s grown in the hills of Palomar Mountain.”
The group needs a minimum of 1,170 signatures to qualify the measure for the November ballot. Signatures must be submitted to the City Council by Aug. 8 for a vote to either put the initiative before voters or enact it into law.