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Smoking lounges, neighborhood grows, and pot dispensaries won't go on the ballot in Imperial Beach, but where exactly will they go? Anywhere? On April 27, a judge upheld the city's decision to deny a petition brought by the Association of Cannabis Professionals, that would take their proposal to voters.

But the city still needs an ordinance, even if it barely resembles one the industry prefers. A current moratorium on all non-medical marijuana activities expires next Feb. On May 2, the city council held a public meeting to discuss what the new rules for commercial pot might be.

The "essence" of the draft ordinance would limit commercial activities to one retail outlet and a 900-foot buffer from places such as schools and parks, said assistant city manager Steve Dush. There would also be a landscape residential buffer. After one year, additional outlets could be considered. The location would be in commercial and mixed-use zones along state highway 75 (Palm Ave.).

Prop 64, which legalized recreational pot sales starting in January, was supported by 62 percent of voters in IB. As for having dispensaries in their city, a survey of 100 people at a workshop found 80 percent in favor. But most speakers at this meeting weren't locals. Barbara Gordon, a high school youth leader from North County, called vaping of pot an alarming problem among teens, who are obtaining the liquid from dispensaries. She asked the city to tightly regulate it. She claimed "one in six teens are addicted to marijuana." (According to the Centers for Disease Control, "Research shows that about one in six teens who repeatedly use marijuana can become addicted.").

Dush said it's something the city should be evaluating, with possible updates to the smoking ordinance for vaping. Others warned about contaminants like pesticides in pot. Kelly McCormick, a Carlsbad resident, said Imperial Beach is wise to go slow. The state's track and trace system for following inventory from cultivation to sale is still non-existent, she said. There's currently no action or recall system for those using medipot, no quality or handling protocols. "How much training does a bud tender have?"

The state put the burden on cities, she said. Industry supporters disagreed. "There's an awful lot of misinformation about the cannabis industry," said Laura Wilkinson, managing member of Caligrown.

Starting Jul. 1, she said, the state bureau of cannabis control will regulate every piece of pot sold by licensed retailers, and products will be "completely tested" for everything from pesticides to heavy metals.

Currently, though, the bureau has reported there aren't enough labs to keep up, so not all weed can be tested yet. Since the new rules took effect in Jan., the industry has been in a transition period that allowed businesses to sell untested cannabis.

Wilkinson asked the city to reduce the 900-foot setback from sensitive uses like schools to 600 feet, which is all the state requires. The 600-foot buffer will only affect three preschools, she said, arguing that preschoolers "don't toddle 600 feet or cross Palm Avenue." The city wants to bring new investment, to revamp crumbling buildings on Palm and draw foot traffic to the mixed use area, she said. "If you want that urban renewal to happen, those are the buildings" in need of renewal, "and there's a dearth outside of 900 feet."

Wilkinson wants the city to consider allowing two dispensaries, rather than starting with just one to see how it goes. How do you know it's working? What is the criterion for success? "No other city in California has only licensed one dispensary." Hire consultants, she urged. "They'll have you up and running the way IB wants them running."

The city council discussed a sales tax to help with enforcement but city attorney Jennifer Lyon said the ordinance calls on the businesses to pay for regulatory monitoring. The council sets the regulatory fee which can be changed as needed. Months ago, before the cannabis petitioners had gathered enough signatures for a ballot measure, Lyon suggested the council reach a consensus and come up with its own regulations first. But the signatures were submitted in March. And still no ordinance.

Yet another city council public hearing was set for June 6, for "possible introduction of the ordinances." Then it has to go to the coastal commission for approval, a process that can take months. While some liked the idea of hiring consultants, Mayor Dedina said it's time to stop wavering. "We've had 18 months to evaluate it, now we're hearing about consultants," he said. "It's time to move forward and be done by Jun."

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