Medical cannabis could soon reach a corner of California where many would consider it out of place among the tourists, seaside cottages, and salt breezes: Santa Catalina Island.
The resort island, three square miles and just 3,800 residents, is one of the Channel Islands located off Los Angeles. Just an hour from the mainland, it’s a favorite Southern California vacation spot.
Most observers see only the tourist industry on Santa Catalina, but real estate broker Mark Malan also sees a new market for medical marijuana. He’s proposing the island’s first dispensary, and he’s offering local government a share of his revenue to spend on schools and other public projects.
“It’s going to create wheelbarrows of money,” Malan told the Los Angeles Times.
Question will go before voters
He has gathered enough valid voter signatures to put the issue on the local ballot within the next two years. If the question passes, it would lift a current ban on dispensaries and open the door to at least two shops on the island.
Malan and his supporters are pushing the idea as the Avalon Medical Cannabis Facility Act of 2016, a law that would site the dispensary in Avalon, one of two small communities on the island. The law would collect a license tax of $10,000 per shop per year, with 50 percent going to school projects.
Another 12 percent tax on all marijuana sales would pay for drug and alcohol education, fund parks programs, and provide revenue to Avalon’s general account. A dispensary would be allowed within town limits and would be banned within 1,000 feet of any public school.
There is plenty of opposition to the proposal, fueled by Avalon’s reputation as a quaint, out-of-the-way spot for tourists and day-trippers. Critics say Malan’s promised financial contribution is too small, calling it a jaded attempt to win over voters in a town protective of its heritage.
“All he’s doing is creating a marijuana problem, then giving back a pittance to deal with it,” said Scott Chipman, Southern California chair of anti-reform group Citizens Against Marijuana. “I wouldn’t care if he put every penny into schools. It’s making a deal with the devil.”
To which Malan typically replies: “Why do you hate kids?”
“Think of all the field trips and summer programs that will pay for,” he said, questioning why it matters to opponents that his proposal would also earn him money.
Two-thirds voter approval required
Malan’s initiative will appear on the Avalon ballot; it’s only a question of when. The City Council could vote to schedule it for a special election in June, put it on the November ballot, or wait until the regular 2018 elections. Whichever they choose, the proposal would face a steep climb: Success requires approval by more than two thirds of voters.
The island and its residents are not known for their warm welcome of change. Avalon’s 2,000 registered voters tend to reject splashy projects – though the community just completed a new $10 million museum complex.
Even with likely voter opposition, the idea has won support from most of the five-member City Council, including Mayor Anni Marshall and two council members, Richard Hernandez and Joe Sampson. The other two members oppose Malan’s medical marijuana petition.
“Money going to schools and medicine going to sick people?” Sampson said. “What’s wrong with that?”
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