To sell medical marijuana legally in Vista, you’ll need a lot of cash and more than a little luck.
Measure Z, the citizen’s initiative that forced the city to allow up to 11 dispensaries within its boundaries, specifies that all applicants show up with a cashier’s check for $100,000 to prove they have the financial wherewithal to finish the approval process. A second check for nearly $10,000 is also required to cover the anticipated permitting costs.
But, in the end, who gets one of the 11 coveted slots will come down to random chance.
The ballot initiative requires that applications be processed in the order they are received, creating a desperate scramble among those itching to be one of the first to open a legal medical marijuana dispensary in a city that has been shutting down illegal operations for years.
Indeed, city officials said one applicant, seeking to get a jump on his potential competitors, showed up at city hall on Friday, Jan. 11, with a homemade sign, jammed it in the ground, and declared that the application line started right where he stood. Another made the rounds with a clip board, telling potential applicants to sign up on the empty lines below his own name.
A similar line-up standoff occurred in La Mesa, with that city eventually handing out numbers to line standers after they appeared willing to hold fast for weeks, if necessary.
Patrick Johnson, Vista’s city manager, took steps on Jan. 14 to prevent a city hall standoff. His office posted guidelines on the city’s web site that outline an “unbiased process” designed to make line-up brinkmanship unnecessary.
“We wanted to make sure that people weren’t sleeping out in the rain and weren’t out in the cold and the storms and there weren’t going to be issues with trying to control who was in line first and who wasn’t,” Johnson said. “We think the unbiased process of having more of a lottery-style system was more appropriate.”
That system begins Tuesday morning when all applicants are directed to enter the lobby of the Morris B. Vance Community room on Civic Center Drive at 9:30 a.m. At 10 a.m., city officials will close the doors and hand out numbered tokens to each applicant or their designated “waiting representative.”
After the tokens are dropped into a canister, they “shall be withdrawn from the canister by a city employee one-at-a-time,” according to the city’s rules.
This dance is only for those determined to be first to the party. The city, as directed by the specific language of Measure Z, will continue taking applications until 5 p.m. on Jan. 29, building a registration priority list on a first-come, first-serve basis.
The ballot initiative specifically prohibits single applicants from sending multiple representatives to Tuesday’s meeting in hopes of giving themselves more chances to land near the top of the list. Multiple submissions from one applicant, according to the measure’s language, “will result in immediate disqualification from the registration process.”
After the application period ends, the measure instructs the city to simply work its way down the list from first to last, verifying that applicants have properly met myriad requirements from proof of insurance to proof of property ownership or occupancy.
It’s a much different process than the one that recently unfolded in Chula Vista. That city, which crafted its own ordinance rather than being forced to accept one heavily influenced by the cannabis industry, created a two-tier application process which invites all to apply. Those applications deemed complete are then assigned scores on a 500-point scale. The application list is then ranked from highest score to lowest. Random chance — drawing numbers from a hat or some other form of unpredictability — only comes into play in cases where there is a tie.
Once secured, spots on the priority list may not be sold or transferred. Shops may not sell to minors, must have air-handling systems to keep odors away from neighbors, are not allowed in residential neighborhoods. The city is also requiring shops to be at least 1,000 feet away from schools, care facilities and youth centers, publishing a tentative map showing that large swathes of the city are off limits.
By far, Vista Business Park, located in the city’s southern quadrant, has the largest number of parcels with the correct zoning that are distant enough from schools and other protected properties. The second-largest concentration of usable parcels line East Vista Way in the city’s northern reaches. Smaller but more centrally-located spots front State Route 78 near South Melrose Drive. Much smaller patches of suitable ground can be found at the far end of South Santa Fe Avenue and on Sycamore Avenue just north of 78.
Measure Z, which was supported by political action committees backed by out-of-town marijuana businesses, takes steps to keep this market just for those who are already in the game.
In addition to requiring a $100,000 security deposit just to submit an application, the measure also requires that each applicant’s business must have been in existence for the six months immediately preceding approval of a license and that each successful applicant have had a seller’s permit from the California Board of Equalization for the same time frame. Given that medical marijuana dispensaries are currently illegal in Vista, that makes it unlikely that local residents will meet the requirements.
While the law does allow a “tolling” agreement for those businesses already in existence to meet the six-month threshold by making a special request as part of their applications, Johnson said Friday that tolling will not be enough to allow new businesses without the necessary state licensing to compete for a spot.
“That’s not the way Measure Z was written,” Johnson said.
This news was a disappointment for Vista resident Bernard Gooden who said he was working with co-investors to pull together a deposit and take a stab at becoming one of the city’s new marijuana entrepreneurs. He meets neither the six-month nor the state license requirement.
“It’s a crippling feeling,” Gooden said.
But he didn’t fault the city manager’s process.
“The city manager has done his due diligence. I feel like he did all he can within the confines of the law to ensure that people can move forward with the application process,” Gooden said.