Laguna Beach has experienced a hectic couple of months in regards to medical marijuana. On July 26th two initiatives were presented to the city council (one written by a small team of Laguna Beach residents and a competing measure written by the police) that would repeal the current ban on marijuana within city limits. It was decided, however, that a hybrid of the two initiatives would be better than having both potentially on the November ballot. But in a special June 9 meeting held to review changes to the language of the initiative, the city council decided that the voter's initiative will be the only legalization measure that appears on the ballot.
The Laguna Beach City Council isn't thrilled about the measure, however. In fact, they voted to leave the city's current ban in place; it will only be lifted if the voter's initiative is passed in November. But council members made it clear that they'd do everything in their power to keep the measure from passing.
"We need your help as citizens to spread the word that we are not supporting this initiative," said council member Toni Iseman. Immediately following her statements, council member Rob ZurSchmiede displayed support of Iseman's ideas. "I want to echo what [Iseman] said. We do need your help...I'd also like to request that the staff bring back at a future meeting a resolution of the council. We as a council can adopt a resolution voicing our opposition to the initiative."
Mayor Steve Dicterow recused himself from the vote. He spent the first 20 minutes of the meeting explaining why it was a conflict of interest for him and why he couldn't be a part of the voting process. "I take recusal very seriously," said Dicterow. "I want to be able to vote on everything—I get elected to vote on everything. I rarely ever recuse myself and usually when one does, it's because of one of two types of situations. Either you have an inherent bias or a financial interest. In this case I felt there were three independent reasons that make it a problem for me to participate."
First of all, Dicterow said, he is a district representative for Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, an outspoken proponent of marijuana legalization. Although Dicterow says that Rohrabacher hasn't tried to influence him on the issue, he believes the relationship constitutes an inherent bias. "When you work with someone who's your boss for a long period of time, it's impossible not to approach an issue so deeply discussed in an unbiased, objective way— and that's this issue for me," said Dicterow. "I also believe there is a perception in the public that the positions I take are reflective of the decisions his perspectives are as a congressman. That's can't happen."
Dicterow also stated that he has a business partner with whom he is always looking for land and real estate to purchase; the pair have already bid on property where a dispensary might be located if the voter initiative is passed. That said, the bid they made on the property was rejected but they're still trying for the property. "I didn’t want anyone to perceive that I would be making a vote on this issue because I was hoping that a property I may own in the future may cause me to be the future landlord for a medical marijuana dispensary," Dicterow said.
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Finally, Dicterow explained that one of the consultants he met through congressman Rohrabacher approached him about running a pro-medical marijuana initiative. Although he rejected the offer, Dicterow explained that he was concerned it would create the perception that he was after financial gain. "I don't know if any of these reasons are necessarily direct conflicts of interest," he said, "but I was very concerned about the appearance. I was concerned that I could not walk into this without a bias."
The proposed legalization measure allows for two or more dispensaries in Laguna Beach to operate from 8am to 10pm, as long as they're 1000 feet away from schools and other dispensaries. Storefronts cannot share or have a common boundary with any residential areas, either. If statewide recreational use passes, the measure will also allow for the recreational sale of marijuana, as well. The application process for a dispensary is first come first serve— unlike Santa Ana's controversial lottery process.
The initiative, as the city council points out, doesn't address distance away from parks, libraries, preschools, nurseries and daycares. It also doesn't address edibles, which has shown to be an issue in Colorado, causing a barrage of new laws limiting the potency and types of edibles that are allowed in the state.
"This is a massive win for us," says Deborah Tharp, a marijuana activist who helped oversee the citizens initiative. "It's not common for a city-initiative to back down. But if passed in November this will be the first dispensary in all of south county, which will open up other cities, like San Clemente and Dana Point."