Drawing the Line Cannabis ballot initiatives introduced in San Diego cities

It’s now fall of 2017. If you are a California cannabis entrepreneur, and your city hasn’t yet opened up licensing, it’s time to become an activist for your venture. At least, that’s what one group of San Diego industry advocates believes.

The Association of Cannabis Professionals (ACP) made local news in August when they called for special elections by submitting intent to file six local ballot initiatives in six different cities within San Diego County. Since then, there have been mixed reactions from activists, communities and city regulators. Successful filing of these initiatives would trigger special elections in the cities of Carlsbad, Encinitas, Oceanside, Vista, Chula Vista and Santee.

Traditionally conservative San Diego politics has been unhurried in realizing the reality that is legal cannabis, whether it be for medicinal or adult use. Many consider it the California metropolitan area that has taken the longest to accept the regulated cannabis industry. That’s why the ACP felt compelled to act in surrounding cities.

“We want regulations on the books by 2018,” said Dallin Young, executive director of the ACP. “We want to come out of the ‘treehouse’ and become responsible, respected members of the community. Not only that, we want people to be able to access legal cannabis and not feel like criminals.”

These campaigns would directly challenge ad-hoc committees in the cities of Vista, Oceanside and Encinitas, which claim they were already well underway with creating rules for dispensaries. However, the ACP firmly believes these particular cities will not have time to fully study the issues and put forth strong policies within four months.

As an attorney who has always specialized in California cannabis law, I believe ballot initiatives should be the last resort. It is almost always easier to work with a willing municipal government than it is to work against regulators by forcing their hand, especially when they’re already in the process of writing their own policies. In Santee, where cannabis activity is not yet regulated, it makes more sense to nudge them with grassroots activism.

With mere months left to organize, the ACP understandably felt the need to act swiftly in the interest of its members. Shutting down the black market has long been a goal of San Diego’s medical cannabis community, and now that California’s medicinal and adult-use cannabis policies have been merged together for simplicity, many believe that cities are not moving fast enough to ensure an adequate legal supply in time for January.

At bare minimum, San Diego has an ordinance in place to regulate its cannabis shops, which will serve both the medical and adult use markets.The San Diego City Council announced the date for a meeting in order to vote on permitting for other business types. Until then, the edible makers, extractors, distributors and delivery services still operate in a frustrating legal grey area.

No matter what happens at this upcoming high-profile public meeting, licensing will still only be open to businesses located within the city limits. With an active moratorium on new cannabis industry activity on the outskirts of the unincorporated county, anyone who wants to join the cannabis industry here must adhere to the zoning laws set forth by San Diego itself—unless these ballot initiatives succeed in creating six new legal cannabis cities.

What happens next with the ACP’s ballot initiatives? For now, it’s the organization’s job to draft the full text of their proposals, collect thousands upon thousands of citizens’ signatures in each of the cities they’ve filed in, and once they’ve fulfilled all the requirements, file the official proposed statutes with each city in time for the deadline.

One thing is for sure—California cannabis activists have waited 20 years for a functional and legal recreational cannabis system. They will continue to organize against municipal governments until rational regulations are put in place. Whether or not these ballot initiative campaigns succeed, local leaders who ignore cannabis reform can bet on further official challenges from their communities.

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