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Marijuana On The Ballot For Three San Diego County Cities This November

Co-owner of The Grove in La Mesa Corey McDermott displays one of his medical marijuana products for sale, Oct. 18, 2018.
Matt Hoffman/KPBS
Co-owner of The Grove in La Mesa Corey McDermott displays one of his medical marijuana products for sale, Oct. 18, 2018.
Marijuana On The Ballot For Three San Diego County Cities This November
Marijuana On The Ballot For Three San Diego County Cities This November GUEST: Matt Hoffman, reporter, KPBS News

This November voters in three San Diego County cities will have a say on cannabis related measures. KPBS reporter Matt Hoffman says the measures deal with legalizing retail sales and taxing marijuana. The Grove is La Mesa his first legal medical marijuana dispensary. Once customers get past the armed guard outside they're asked to show a medical recommendation. He'll come in. He'll be approached by one of our greeters. Right now it's me. I'll get your identification. I'll verify that it's. It is indeed active. Sean McDermott owns a dispensary. Once you've done that you'll be allowed to get buzzed in Cologne and this isn't your typical dispensary. The Grove is building a brand a green and white paint job as a company by wall mounted flat screen TVs and most products are kept in sleek LCD lit cases. And there's a big. Comfort level for people they see from outside they can see all the way into the shop. Not hidden in secret. The Grove opened this August. But getting the store open wasn't easy. The process to become licensed was tough. It took us two years. Pretty heavy duty background check along with the grove La Mesa has a handful of medical marijuana dispensaries set to open soon with more going through the application process. I totally think that each city is looking at marijuana and some cities are saying stay away with a 10 foot pole and then some cities are like How can we make our money on that right now. This November voters in La Mesa will be asked to vote on a cannabis business tax. If passed it would add up to a 6 percent tax on sales. There's a number there that the public can tolerate. You know everybody understands there needs to be a tax involved. I think the tax is a good thing it's going to be spent positively. The city of Chula Vista also has a similar Cannabis Business Tax heading to voters this year. Chula Vista deputy city manager Kelly Bacon says it would allow for dispensaries to open up inside the city if the tax measure passes. Will start accepting licenses in early January if it doesn't. Then they'll continue to be illegal in Chula Vista measure. Q would impose at least a 5 percent but no more than 15 percent tax on sales. Back in March Chula Vista City Council voted to allow recreational cannabis businesses in the city. But that ordinance is contingent on a measure Q passing the city says measure CU could eventually raise 6 million dollars a year which they say would go towards shutting down illegal dispensaries. We probably have somewhere between 13 and 15 still open today that are all that have popped up at various times. Third Avenue in Chula Vista is littered with illegal dispensers. They make it look like it's legal they put big signs they put flashing signs arrows pointing you know park here. Come on in here. But they are absolutely illegal. McDermott believes underground operations make cities uneasy about legalizing the sale of cannabis. They have been bad neighbors and they've pissed off the police department they've pissed off the public and so they've made it really difficult to get the city to believe that we can be good neighbors. Then there's voters in Vista who will see three cannabis related measures in November. Measure Z is a citizens initiative that would bring up 211 medical marijuana storefronts to Vista. It's backed by Vinton's for safe community access. A group led by former Vista City Councilman Cody Campbell. A brick and mortar storefront as far greater ability to implement enforcement oversight in response to the citizens initiative the city worked to put out their own Canibus measure on the ballot. Vista Mayor Judy Ritter says measure Beebee would allow up to three medical marijuana delivery businesses and no storefronts. Yeah after the initiative came out we decided that we needed to put something on the ballot and give people a choice so if they if they didn't want if they didn't let them dispensaries that there are people that want the medical and want access to that so that's why we did that so they will have access to says. Over the years they have closed at least 50 illegal dispensaries. City sponsored measure AA would tax marijuana between three and a half percent for testing and up to 12 percent for retail stores. Joining me is K.P. reporter Matt Hoffman. Matt welcome. Good to be here. Now marijuana sales have been legal statewide for almost a year but each city and county is able to set its own rules on dispensaries and taxes. Right yeah. So each municipality to an extent prop 64 allowed for that local control in San Diego. You'll see different cities like Al Capone who don't allow dispensaries or anything and then you'll see cities like San Diego La Mesa is one of them who are realizing that hey we can make some money off of this also to help shut down some illegal operations as well. Now your starter your report in May. So where voters are being asked to put a business tax on cannabis sales. Is it only medical marijuana that's legally sold in La Mesa yet correct. Well right now it's only medical marijuana and they only have one medical marijuana dispensary it's called The Grove. And we went there and checked it out and they have a number of them going through the process right now a couple of them doing some renovations on buildings in the area to get their stores up and so they'll be a number of them coming online pretty soon. Supporters of the business tax say how that money would be used. Yes so according to the measure they say it'll be used for general government purposes including police and fire protection road repairs neighborhood parks community services. So it sounds like it could go for a number of things but I know some people talked about is going to go to salaries things like that it doesn't appear like that. So it sounds like it's going to go toward general city services. It sounds like the retail sale of recreational cannabis in Chula Vista depends upon measure Q passing. Why did the city make that a prerequisite. Yes. Back in March the city council passed an ordinance allowing recreational sales but it was contingent on something going to voters for a business tax and so if this business tax passes then the recreational sales will be legal and up to three marijuana businesses per council district no more than two dispensaries would be allowed to go in the city Chula Vista. I know why they do it this way. I talk to them and they say that they've looked at a bunch of different cities they say they've gone to Colorado they've gone to a bunch of different cities and seen what they've done what's worked what hasn't. And they want to do everything at once. Some cities obviously like La Mesa. They did the you know legalizing medical marijuana sales first and then they did this business tax chalices kind of doing it all at once. The measure facing voters in Vista actually seems a little confusing. Measure Z would allow the licensing of 11 marijuana retail stores has approved zoning for retail marijuana shops. No they have not. And right now they don't have any retail marijuana dispensaries within the city but measures would add zoning and this does according to the measure commercial industrial business park and mixed use zoning districts so there's a lot of opportunities. And like we said it could add up to 11. So they could go from none to attention up to 11 would measure Z allowed delivery services. No it would not. It would just be storefronts but delivery services are already allowed under California state law to go from like say ocean site into Vista but no stores that actually do delivery services are located in Vista right. Correct. Unless they're legal and there's no legal ones in Vista right now. And these 11 storefronts would not be able to do delivery. It would just be brick and mortar. So measure b b however would only allow delivery services is that right. Right yeah. And then this is the city sort of response to Z Z came out and then they said OK what are we going to do. Well talking to Mayor writter Mayor Judy Ritter she says you know Eleven's a lot in her opinion and in her opinion they still want to give people that option to have that medical option so they said OK well what if we do up to three delivery services in an unmarked van. And so that's kind of just as alternative to Tizi from the city council. Then you have measurer a tax the sale of cannabis in Vista. Would that be for both storefront sales and delivery. So obviously Beebee is only for delivery services but the text of measure AAA says it does cover retail sales that covers delivery covers a number of things. But obviously the city is hoping that only delivery sales or none of these measures pass if they're going to tax delivery sales. How are they going to keep track of those sales. So it sounds like that the council if passed they would have to set up some additional regulations as far as what their operating procedures would look like and I'm sure that that would be handled there then. But the Opposition measures people say that's that's kind of their argument as they say. How would you track delivery. You don't know what's going in and out whereas with a storefront they say there's cameras. It's a brick and mortar operation security guard outside. They argue that that's more safe than delivery. All of the Council on the other side and Mayor Ridd are saying well actually we think deliveries more safe. Finally this San Diego City Council decided on a number of marijuana dispensaries and where they would be located. That's the City Council doing that. Why is Vista asking the voters to decide. Well first I'm not sure that they really even wanted to delve into this issue of medical marijuana for recreational marijuana. So you started collecting saying well before it was this initiative started collecting signatures to put something on the ballot for these 11 dispensaries and once they collected those signatures the mayor Raeder says then the city realize we need to put something on the ballot that we don't want to go full bore in terms of up to 11 dispensaries. We'd rather slowly ease into it. And so you know this is asking the voters to decide because the citizens initiative qualified and then so they followed up with two initiatives of their own. I really don't think that they even wanted to delve into this. I've been speaking with Kate PBS reporter Matt Hoffman. Matt thank you. Thanks Maureen.

The Grove is the city of La Mesa’s first legal medical marijuana dispensary. It opened in August, but getting the store open was not easy for owner Sean McDermott.

"The process to become licensed was tough," McDermott said. "It took us two years, pretty heavy duty background check."

Along with the Grove, La Mesa has a handful of medical dispensaries set to open soon with more going through the application process.

"I totally think that each city is looking at marijuana and some cities are saying stay away with a 10-foot pole," McDermott said. "And then some cities are like, 'how can we make our money on that right now?'"

Marijuana On The Ballot For Three San Diego County Cities This November

This November voters in La Mesa will be asked to vote on a cannabis business tax. If passed it would add up to 6 percent tax on sales.

"There’s a number there that public can tolerate," McDermott said. "Everybody understands there needs to be a tax involved, I think the tax is a good thing, it’s going to be spent positively. But it needs to be palatable — you can’t just punish marijuana users because some people think that marijuana is a dangerous drug."

RELATED: Vista Voters Will See Three Marijuana-Related Initiatives This November

The city of Chula Vista also has a similar cannabis business tax heading to voters this year. Chula Vista Deputy City Manager Kelley Bacon said it would allow dispensaries in the city.

"If the tax measure passes, we’ll start accepting licenses in early January," Bacon said. "If it doesn’t, then they’ll continue to be illegal in Chula Vista."

Measure Q would impose at least a 5 percent but no more than 15 percent tax on pot sales. Back in March, Chula Vista’s city council voted to allow recreational cannabis businesses in the city — but that ordinance is contingent on Measure Q passing. The city said Measure Q could eventually raise $6 million a year, which would go toward shutting down illegal dispensaries.

"We probably have somewhere between 13 and 15 (illegal dispensaries) still open today that have popped up at various times," Bacon said. "It’s a little bit like 'Whac-A-Mole' in that you close them down and they go around the corner and open up again or down the block and that’s been a bit of a challenge."

An illegal dispensary in Chula Vista on Third Avenue, Oct. 18, 2018.
KPBS/Katie Schoolov
An illegal dispensary in Chula Vista on Third Avenue, Oct. 18, 2018.

Third Avenue in Chula Vista is littered with illegal dispensaries.

"They make it look like it’s legal," Bacon said. "They put big signs, they put flashing signs, arrows pointing, (signs that say) park here, come in here. But they are absolutely illegal. And one of the things we did in our ordinance and we’ve said this from the very beginning, we’ve given warning to all of them — that if you operate illegally in the city of Chula Vista, you’re banned from opening up. We’re not going to accept a license."

McDermott said underground operations make cities uneasy about legalizing cannabis.

"They’ve been bad neighbors," McDermott said. "They’ve pissed off the police department, they pissed off the public, so made it really difficult for the city to believe that we can be good neighbors."

Voters in Vista will see three cannabis-related measures in November. Measure Z is a citizens initiative that would bring up to 11 medical marijuana storefronts to Vista. It is backed by Vistans for Safe Community Access — a group lead by former Vista City Councilman Cody Campbell.

"A brick and mortar storefront has far greater ability to implement enforcement and oversight," Campbell said. "You’re able to see where the sales are occurring, have security cameras, security on site. It’s safer, both for the operator and it’s safer for the patients that are getting access to the product."

In response to the citizens initiative, the Vista city council voted to put two of its own cannabis measures on the ballot. Vista Mayor Judy Ritter said Measure BB would allow up to three medical marijuana delivery businesses in the city, with no storefronts.

"After the initiative came out we decided that we need to put something on the ballot to give people a choice," Ritter said. "So, if they didn’t want 11 dispensaries but there are people who want the medical and want access to that — so that’s why we did that so they’d have access."

Ritter said Vista has closed more than 50 illegal dispensaries in the last few years. City-sponsored Measure AA would tax marijuana between 3-and-a-half percent for testing and up to 12 percent for retail stores.

"The questions voters are going to have to ask themselves is, do we really want to have delivery services regulated by the city? Roaming around the city, not knowing where the sales are occurring — what they’re actually selling," Cambell said.

Ritter prefers the delivery method and said she recognizes there are benefits from medical marijuana.

"For seizures," Ritter said. "For cancer patients, so you know there is a lot of good that comes with that. So I’m not totally anti-marijuana. But I just think the state made it legal and my job as mayor is to bring dispensaries in, to look at the best way to bring them in and not so many, maybe not so many as 11 — 11 is a lot."

At The Grove in La Mesa, McDermott said business is good. It might be a surprise — but he said his average customer is 57 years old. Half of the sales are not actual buds, it is vapes and waxes. Another Grove is popping up soon. McDermott hopes to have a Lemon Grove location open by the end of the year.

Marijuana On The Ballot For Three San Diego County Cities This November
This November voters in La Mesa, Chula Vista and Vista will see cannabis-related measures about legalizing retail sales and taxing marijuana.