Proponents of allowing medical marijuana businesses to operate in Costa Mesa have taken their case to City Hall in the hopes of bringing the issue before city voters this November.
Organizers characterize their ARRO Initiative, or Act to Restrict and Regulate the Operation of Medical Marijuana Businesses, as a "conservative approach" that provides "dignified access" to medical marijuana for users, as allowed by the voter-approved Compassionate Use Act of 1996.
Furthermore, it would help clarify discrepancies between California's cannabis law and the federal government's stance on the issue, said the initiative's author, attorney Randall Longwith.
"It can be done, and we want it done as city-friendly as possible," he said. "We want this to be integrated into the city's network, not to change anything for those cities that don't have a proliferation of illegal dispensaries already."
The law — which could override the section of Costa Mesa's municipal code that prohibits dispensaries — would limit the number of licensed dispensaries to eight, impose a 6% municipal sales tax, require sellers to have state permits and prohibit a concentration of dispensaries in any particular area, organizers said.
It would also ban sales to minors and sales within 600 feet of schools. Dispensary operators would undergo background checks and could not have any felony convictions within the last seven years.
"I think people are ready, and I think people understand that things don't implode when you fully legalize something," said Longwith, an Orange County-based attorney specializing in driving-under-the-influence and medical marijuana cases.
Organizers brought ARRO to City Hall last week. To qualify the initiative for the ballot they must gather about 4,900 signatures of Costa Mesa voters within 180 days.
A similar effort in August 2012, led by the Orange County Cannabis Alliance, ultimately failed to qualify for the ballot. The group needed 5,811 signatures, or 10% of Costa Mesa voters. Despite submitting about 6,800 signatures, only 5,703 were valid, according to the Orange County registrar of voters.
Earlier that year, federal authorities raided some Costa Mesa-based marijuana storefronts. At the time, City Atty. Tom Duarte asked for aid in ridding the city of the illegal businesses. He also wrote to the U.S. attorney's office that Costa Mesa was spending significant amounts in legal costs to challenge the clinics.
Longwith said his group is bringing city-specific versions of the ARRO Initiative to other Orange County cities.
He cited the success of such measures in other states, including Colorado and Washington, and noted California's own Senate Bill 1262, regarding licensing and standards. It was introduced by state Sen. Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana) and
co-sponsored by the League of California Cities and the California Police Chiefs Assn.
"This is the time," Longwith said. "This is the moment in time that this is right.... Let's see what the people want here. What we're doing is taking them up on that."