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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 ...

Credit: Matt Hoffman/KPBS

Above: 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

GUEST:

Matt Hoffman, reporter, KPBS News

Transcript

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?'"

Video by Katie Schoolov

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."

Photo credit: 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.

This November voters in La Mesa, Chula Vista and Vista will see cannabis-related measures about legalizing retail sales and taxing marijuana.

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