The Lemon Grove City Council will consider Tuesday whether to put a competing measure on the November ballot alongside a citizen’s initiative to allow medical marijuana dispensaries to operate in town. Among key differences, the alternative initiative would regulate dispensaries rather than authorize them, according to a city staff report.
An impact report ordered by the council at its July 17 meeting introduces the alternative initiative drafted by City Manager Graham Mitchell and City Attorney James Lough, and analyzes potential legal, policy and implementation impacts the citizen’s initiative might have on the city and community.
Among the city’s legal concerns in implementing the proposed citizen’s initiative is a 2.5 percent tax to be collected on medical marijuana sales—a proposal that the measure’s backers, Citizens for Patient Rights, estimates would generate about $100,000 a year in revenue for the city.
According to the report, the proposal amounts to an excise tax that Lemon Grove would not legally be able to collect. Since state law prevents implementation of a higher sales tax rate on a specific item, the city can’t impose an additional sales tax on medical marijuana, according to the report.
“While the state has allowed excise taxes on alcohol, tobacco and other products, medical marijuana is not in any category that allows an excise tax to be imposed. Therefore, the entire sales tax provision found under this measure is invalid and cannot be implemented,” concludes the report.
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.
The impact report states the city is required to “walk a fine line between the contradictions of federal and state law on the subject.” Implementation of the proposed competing measure, however, “should not result in any significant exposure to liability to City officials” because the proposed alternative initiative seeks to regulate dispensaries rather than authorize them, according to the report.
Mitchell says the proposed alternative initiative gives “a lot more control at the City Council level, and at the community level.”
Other key differences include increased safety measures, zoning limitations, and licenses and fees that could generate an estimated three times as much revenue as the 2.5 percent sales tax the report deems as uncollectible.
The report does not address issues raised by supporters and opponents, as its intent is to be unbiased.
Come November, it's voters who will decide whether medical marijuana dispensaries are a good fit for the city. In drafting the alternative initiative, Mitchell said the council sought to give the community as much input as possible rather than propose a ban on dispensaries.
In the hands of voters,“the ultimate ban is people voting against the measure,” Mitchell says.
Tuesday is the council’s deadline to consider giving voters a competing measure, as well as placing the citizen’s initiative on the November ballot.
The Lemon Grove City Council meets at 6 p.m. the first and third Tuesday of the month at the community center.