Vista council gearing up for new marijuana dispensaries

The Vista City Council on Tuesday certified a voter-approved ballot initiative allowing the sale of medical marijuana, and authorized code changes that clear the way for those laws to take effect.

Measure Z authorizes the retail sale of medical marijuana by up to 11 businesses in the city’s commercial, industrial, business park and mixed-use zoning districts. It prevailed in the Nov. 6 election over a city-sponsored proposal, Measure BB, which would have allowed up to three delivery-only medical pot retailers and two testing laboratories.

The new laws represent a dramatic turn from previous years, when Vista officials aggressively sought to shut down pot shops operating within the city’s borders.

On Tuesday, the council set a schedule for permitting the new marijuana businesses over the next few months. It also passed a separate urgency ordinance prohibiting all cannabis-related uses except the dispensaries authorized by Measure Z.

The ordinance won’t affect legal pot dispensaries set up under Measure Z, but protects them from “unfair, untaxed competition from illegal marijuana retailers,” the staff report for the ordinance stated.

“This does not in any way interfere with Measure Z, and in fact it is intended to make sure that the dispensaries that are going to invest their time and effort in coming in under Measure Z are not undercut by illegal operations within the city,” City Attorney Darold Pieper said.

“We believe the moratorium is necessary because of potential confusion by some people thinking that in some way Measure Z has opened Vista up to anyone and to everyone, and that is certainly not the case, and we do not want to have people initiating illegal operations here, while we’re getting the Measure Z people set up.”

According to the calendar, the effective date for the new marijuana law will be Dec. 21. On Jan. 7, Vista staff will begin to create application forms for dispensary permits, and post rules and instructions a week later, on Jan. 14.

The city will begin accepting applications on Jan. 22, and close that window for receiving applications a week later, on Jan. 29. Between Feb. 21 and 28, the city will finish processing applications and announce the completed registrations.

Residents who spoke on the new marijuana laws asked the council to modify some provisions, to make them more protective of surrounding communities.

Kathleen Lippitt, a public health practitioner with Coastal Communities Drug-Free Coalition, asked for the city to establish a buffer between the new dispensaries and “sensitive uses,” including “child care centers, minor-oriented facilities, treatment and recovery centers, parks, libraries, residential care facilities and playgrounds.”

She also asked the council to consider rules that would prevent the sale of marijuana products contaminated with pesticides or other toxins, and to require owners of the dispensaries to be identified by name, rather than by the titles of limited liability companies.

Judi Strang, who identified herself as a public health educator, also asked the council to expand the distance between the dispensaries and youth facilities to 1,000 feet, and called for notifying residents and businesses located within 1,000 feet of the upcoming dispensaries.

Measure Z prohibits anyone convicted of a felony drug offense within the past four years from operating a dispensary, but Strang suggested that the city also refuse permits to those who previously ran an illegal dispensary.

“Perhaps those who have operated illegally in the city of Vista in the past and maybe over the next couple of months also should not be considered as applicants, because this has been a controversial situation and I know your goal is to have honorable applicants,” she said.

Bernard Gooden, who said he hopes to set up a medical marijuana dispensary, took issue with a provision of Measure Z that requires applicants to have operated their business for six months before applying for permits. That rule, he noted, favors people who have previously run illegal dispensaries over applicants trying to set up new, legal businesses.

“I just want to make sure that the young entrepreneur who's trying to come into it the right way isn’t assassinated immediately, before everything even starts,” he said “We have to make sure that we have the most qualified candidates, and that the people can be safe.”

City officials, however, responded that the setbacks, application rules and other key provisions of the new marijuana law are established by the ballot measure, and can’t be changed by council action.

“Measure Z ...was not drafted by the city or the city attorney,” Pieper said. “It was drafted by individuals who wished to open business here in the city…. We can clarify things, we can work with regulations to identify issues that are not identified, or if there are inconsistencies in the measure itself that reflect drafting errors. But we do not have the power to change the laws that were adopted by the people, where those are very clear.”

deborah.brennan@sduniontribune.com Twitter@deborahsbrennan

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