City delays $500,000 vote on pot dispensary enforcement
Tommy Montejano, co-owner of BNT Medical Collective Inc., inspects a batch of Master Kush marijuana, which sells at $60 for one-eighth ounce, and is commonly recommended as a pain remedy. Santa Ana arrested 42 people related to illegal marijuana dispensaries.
JOSHUA SUDOCK, STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
City Council on Tuesday postponed its decision to reallocate $500,000 toward an enforcement plan that aims to shut down illegal pot dispensaries across the city – a move that satisfies some medical marijuana advocates who have condemned a recent spate of arrests.
In a unanimous vote, the City Council voted in favor of continuing the issue until after the Nov. 4 election, when voters decide on one of two ballot initiatives – including a city-backed measure – that legalize and tax medical marijuana dispensaries in the city.
The enforcement plan involves $350,000 in overtime funding for the Santa Ana Police Department and the Planning and Building Agency to investigate municipal code violations related to prohibited marijuana dispensaries. The City Attorney’s Office will receive $150,000 to prosecute the cases. The money would come from the 2014-15 General Fund reserve.
“I don’t think that spending this $500,000 is going to be successful in getting rid of the medical marijuana dispensaries,” said Kandice Hawes, principal officer of the Committee to Support Medical Marijuana Ballot Initiative PAC.
The beefed-up enforcement plan went into effect immediately after the City Council’s July 15 agreement to earmark funds in overtime pay to close pot shops near schools and those offering “dabs” or doses of cannabis concentrate, mostly referred to as butane hash oil, or BHO.
In three days – July, 16, 17 and 31 – Santa Ana police arrested 110 people for medical marijuana dispensary violations.
Although the City Council had not officially approved the reallocation of money, the enforcement took place with “existing resources,” said police Chief Carlos Rojas. City Clerk Maria Huizar said the “appropriation adjustment” of the funds needs a supermajority vote.
Councilman Vincent Sarmiento said the City Council did not give the necessary direction when members decided in July to allocate the money toward the enforcement task force.
“I hope we can come back and specify a little bit better of how we wanted to enforce,” Sarmiento said. “By going out and just doing multiple arrests … not only does it cause a heavy workload and a burden on them (police department employees), but it burdens the court system also.”
Despite a 2007 measure that outlaws storefront medical-marijuana dispensaries, Santa Ana police and the City Attorney’s Office have struggled with shutting down illegal collectives.
“I think everyone would agree … that there are too many medical marijuana collectives in the city, that they’re in the wrong places,” Hawes said at Tuesday’s meeting. “But I don’t think that going around arresting people and hogging up the courts is the way to do it.”
Now headed to the November ballot are two initiatives to legalize and tax medical marijuana collectives in Santa Ana:
• The Medical Cannabis Restriction and Limitation Initiative would set up a process for dispensaries to register with the city and, in return, pay a 2 percent tax. It also would let dispensaries operate only in certain zones and calls for at least one collective or cooperative for every 15,000 residents.
• The city-backed measure would require a 500-foot separation between collectives, which would be allowed only in two industrial zones. A 1,000-foot separation from schools, parks and residential zones also would be required. Collectives would initially be charged a 5 percent tax, which could increase to 10 percent.
The task force was approved at the urging of Councilwoman Michele Martinez, who has opposed the ballot measure without a concrete enforcement plan.
Although Martinez said she was in support of the enforcement efforts, she voted in favor of continuing the item.
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