It only took a few weeks for medical marijuana supporters to file their first ballot initiatives with the city clerk's office, after the Long Beach City Council voted to maintain the city’s current ban at the beginning of February.
A press conference held Friday announced the introduction of the ballot initiative that was filed in the wake of the council’s vote earlier this month. Known as the “Long Beach Medical Cannabis Facilities Act of 2016," it was filed by a political action committee comprised of lawyers, consultants and “frustrated citizens” who are hopeful the measure will end up on the general election ballot in November.
“We are shooting to get on the general ballot, but I can’t really guarantee the committee that because it’s kind of cutting it short in terms of the cutoff date,” said Jason Aula, a political strategist and author of the proposed initiative. “But if we get going really quickly, we could end up on the general ballot, which is ideal, because of the political participation level.”
The most recent version of the city’s ordinance that was received and filed earlier this month called for the operation of delivery-only services inside the city, with a provision to allow for those businesses to establish a brick-and-mortar presence after a review of their impacts on the city. The starkly different ballot measure was filed by Larry King, a member of the city’s medical marijuana task force.
If approved by the voters, it will not only introduce the medical cannabis industry back into the city, but also prohibit the council from amending the ordinance without a second vote from residents due to a provision in the act.
“After that point, the city council, according to the ballot measure and how it’s written, they can’t change any of the parts of that law unless they go to the voters first,” Aula said. “They really don’t have any authority to change anything [regarding] how the law’s written, only the voters do.”
The ballot measure will require nearly 25,000 signatures to make it onto the ballot for the general election, and would require over 12,000 more if it were to be considered for a special election. To help with the effort, the group has enlisted the help of 44th Congressional District hopeful Marcus Musante, with the hope that his presence will lead to the absence of any “funny business” on the part of the city clerk’s office, according to a release from the group.
An outline of the ordinance filed with the city clerk’s office would repeal significant portions of the Long Beach Municipal Code regulating and banning medical marijuana operations in the city while simultaneously introducing its own new measures.
Among the highlights of the act are direct about-faces from failed versions of the city’s ordinances on cultivation and distribution buffer zones and regulations. The act calls for dispensaries to be allowed in all zones, possibly including residential, and for a “reasonable amount of cannabis” of cultivation to occur throughout the city without assigned buffer zones.
It would also allow for a large window of operation for sales—nearly 20 hours a day—and would allow for delivery operators to carry out delivery services inside the city of Long Beach even if they originate from outside the city’s boundaries. The act would even allow for low-income patients unable to pay for medical marijuana to be supplied it for free, as well as calling for a “craft beer warehouse-style experience” where patients would be able to consume on-site.
Assistant City Attorney Mike Mais said that he couldn’t comment on any potential legal obstacles facing King’s proposal, but the finalized draft of the ballot title and summary will be completed by his office before tomorrow’s deadline. Mais, who has worked in the city for nearly 32 years, said that if this measure or another pertaining to medical marijuana were voted into effect, it would certainly represent “a moment” in history, stopping short of calling it historic.
“Quite honestly, it’s rare, period, no matter what the topic is, where you have a voter-driven initiative because of the cost of gathering signatures and so forth,” Mais said. “In Long Beach, I haven’t seen that many voter-driven initiatives, period.”
Mais’ office has received a separate ballot proposal late last week and is working toward synthesizing the parameters of that document, the results of which are expected to be released early next month. There have been many competing factions within the marijuana industry trying to draft proposals before working toward procuring the signatures necessary to make it onto the ballot.
A separate effort to spearhead a marijuana initiative on this year’s ballot is being decided by the Ninth Circuit United States Court of Appeals. That case stemmed from a lawsuit levied against former City Clerk Larry Herrera, in which the defendants claim Herrera unlawfully kept their initiative off the ballot in April 2014, despite them presenting Herrera with over 40,000 signatures. The plaintiff, Jeremy Coltharp, was asking for it to be placed on this year’s general election ballot.
A decision in the case was handed down late Monday with the court deciding in favor of the city, ruling that Herrera had acted "properly and reasonably" when denied advancement of the measure to the 2014 ballot because it was advertised as a special election initiative.
"In particular, the trial court found that Herrera did not have the discretion to ignore the specific wording of the petition, and impose his own interpretation on the intent of the individuals signing the petition," Long Beach Assistant City Attorney Monte Machit wrote in a statement issued today. "The trial court also found that Herrera did not violate either Plaintiffs’ federal constitutional rights or state law, and acted reasonably in discharging his duties."
Aula said he’s aware of competing proposals, but added that because his clients has already been filed they’ll most likely have a leg up in collecting the necessary votes before the cutoff date. However, he said, his group would not be dismissive of talks to possibly combine efforts for the general election ballot.
“We’re in discussions about possibly working together but they’ve got their own separate ballot initiative they claim they’re going to bring it up based on discussions we’ve had” Aula said. “Negotiations are always on the table but we’ll have to see what the terms are.”
[Editors Note: The story has been updated to reflect the 9th Circuit Circuit Appellate Court's ruling in favor of the city]