La Mesa voters on November 8 will decide whether to approve a citizen-sponsored initiative to allow medical marijuana dispensaries in the city, a proposal voters rejected in November 2014. Since then, the La Mesa City Council voted in December 2015 to ban mobile medical marijuana dispensaries, and the council on June 28 approved a fund transfer “not to exceed $72,000” for “unexpected legal services” that include cases involving illegal brick-and-mortar dispensaries.
On August 9, the council voted unanimously to schedule a public vote on the initiative to allow dispensaries and the cultivation and manufacture of medical marijuana. In addition, a qualified patient or caregiver could cultivate up to eight marijuana plants for personal use.
The California Elections Code required the council to either adopt the proposed ordinance or schedule a public vote because the Citizens for Patient Rights initiative petition contained the signatures of 10 percent of La Mesa’s 33,091 registered voters. According to the Registrar of Voters’ August 4 verification, the petition included 5193 signatures. The registrar verified 4235 signatures and found 1225 weren’t valid (the total included 109 duplicates). Verification stopped when the 10 percent total of 3010 signatures was reached.
The registrar projected that it will cost from $18,000 to $25,000 for the ballot measure. (For the 2014 medical marijuana vote, 5135 signatures were needed to reach 10 percent. The registrar’s final results issued on December 2, 2014, showed that 7452 La Mesans voted against the proposition and 6450 were in favor of it.)
At the August council meeting, initiative supporter Cynara Velasquez was the only member of the public who spoke. She cited the more than 5000 signatures collected “in less than 60 days” and said, “We believe this massive citizen support shows there’s a very strong desire for regulation, oversight, and transparency of” dispensaries. Velasquez referred to the presence of “unauthorized” dispensaries, saying they “continue to exist because terminally ill patients [in La Mesa] continue to depend on marijuana medicine.”
City manager Yvonne Garrett provided information in an August 11 email about the status of illegal dispensaries. While the city has not caught anyone making or accepting deliveries since ordinances were approved to outlaw mobile dispensaries, “we are working on 13 cases right now, and they are all in various stages of code enforcement or going through the legal process of shutting them down.”
I knew from reporting that residents’ complaints are one way the city learns about illegal dispensaries. In addition, city staffers in La Mesa and San Diego said they check ads in the Reader. I checked weedmaps.com, a directory I learned about at a community planning group meeting.
In 2014, there were about four dispensaries on University Avenue in La Mesa. My recent check of weedmaps showed 13 dispensaries in the city. There are 7 dispensaries on University: 3 on the 7100 block, 2 on the 7400 block, 1 on the 6900 block, and another on the 7600 block. There’s 1 dispensary on the 8700 block of La Mesa Boulevard. The 2 on the 5500 block of Jackson Drive include Cloud 9 Wellness Center. It’s in a building where a sign announces “YOU ARE HERE,” along with the address, a logo with the letters “wm” above a smile, and an arrow pointing to parking.
I recognized another address from my April 22, 2016, story about plans for some La Mesa properties. At the time, realtor Kip Pitman said escrow could close April 22 on a one-quarter-acre property at 7640 El Cajon Boulevard. On August 12, the white building with the black windows looked as it did in my April photograph. Only the parked cars were different. It’s now Elevated Greens, according to weedmaps. Another dispensary is on the 7300 block, and a third is “near 73rd Street and El Cajon Boulevard.”
According to weedmaps, the dispensaries are open seven days a week, and the hours for some are from 8 a.m. to 2 a.m. While a seven-day schedule is allowed in the ballot measure, dispensary hours are set at 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., according to the initiative summary prepared by city attorney Glenn Sabine.
In addition, dispensaries must “maintain a minimum of 1000 feet separation from licensed childcare centers, playgrounds, minor-oriented facilities, other dispensaries, and schools.”
The ordinance specifies the zones where dispensaries, manufacturing, and cultivation will be allowed. Conditional use permits will be required, along with security measures including cameras, alarms, and guards.