A soccer mom was one of more than a dozen advocates of medical marijuana to put a face on the hot-button issue Tuesday night as the Lemon Grove City Council considered a local ballot initiative to allow dispensaries to open in the city.
Following the recommendation of both City Manager Graham Mitchell and City Attorney Jim Lough, the council opted to study the measure and voted 5-0 to order a report on the legal, financial, economic and land use impacts of dispensaries, which operate as commercial cooperatives, on the city.
The report is expected to be presented to the council at its Aug. 7 meeting.
In addition, the council voted unanimously to appoint councilmen Howard Cook and Jerry Jones to a subcommittee that will assist with drafting a competing measure for voter consideration on the November ballot.
Under the election code, the council has three options to act on the proposed initiative— adopt the ordinance as written, put the measure on the November ballot, or order an impact report. Lough introduced the fourth option of developing a competing measure—such as one that might ban medical marijuana dispensaries from the city for a certain period of time.
Council members listened closely as supporters and opponents of the proposed ordinance offered impassioned testimony on the matter.
Silvia Gutierrez, a Rancho Penasquitos mother who was active in youth soccer before an accident left her with life-threatening injuries, told the council prescription pain killers rendered her unable to enjoy time with her son.
Not only has medical marijuana improved her quality of life, it’s also help her lose 50 pounds—and that might give her a chance for surgery that could save her life, she said.
Citizens for Patient Rights spearheaded the petition drive, which collected the 1,206 valid signatures required to put the measure on the ballot for voters. Lemon Grove is among by the organization’s expansion effort in the wake of a massive federal crackdown that closed commercial cooperatives in the county last year.
While California voters approved the use of marijuana for medical purposes in 1996, possession or sale of the drug remains a federal crime. In question is whether the state’s medical marijuana industry is at odds with the federal Controlled Substances Act, which prohibits the sale and distribution of cannabis.
Mayor Mary Sessom was concerned about the financial strain the matter could create for the city.
“I don’t care if a dispensary goes into Lemon Grove or not,” Sessom said. “But I do care if it impacts our general funds.
“There are tons of (dispensary) cases in the California Supreme Court right now and I don’t want to be another test case, because we can’t afford it.”
In an email to the mayor, campaign coordinator Cynara Velazquez estimated Lemon Grove has the potential for no more than 10 dispensaries that would serve a market of about 1,600 patients and caregivers who live in the city. More could come from nearby communities, including an estimated 1,500 patients from Spring Valley, and 3,000 patients from La Mesa—though the group has a petition effort going there, which would allow dispensaries to serve that market if it’s qualified for the ballot and passed by voters.
Opponents of the proposed measure cite concerns about violent crime, the ease of obtaining medical marijuana for recreational use—especially among young people—and the legality of dispensaries.
Dean Scott, an Oceanside resident who does business locally, was among five opponents to address the council.
“I’m angry the pro-pot lobby has moved into Lemon Grove,” Scott said. “It’s clear that this pot shop initiative is a Trojan horse. The legality needs to be challenged in court before Lemon Grove wastes its time and money.”
The measure calls for limiting medical marijuana dispensaries to retail and industrial zones. Other provisions include a 600-foot buffer from schools and playgrounds, a 1,000-foot buffer between dispensaries, and signage limitations. Using medical marijuana at a dispensary is prohibited. Each operation would be required to have a community liaison to work with the city.
The city would also collect a 2.5 percent sales tax, which is expected to generate nearly $100,000 in revenue.
The council focused on the action it needed to take on the proposed measure, but sensitivity to the issue was also raised. Councilman Howard Cook said he knows people who need to use medical marijuana.
“It’s very hard for us to sit up here and decide what’s good for people, and what’s not good for people,” he said. “That’s for voters to decide.”