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Marijuana jars in dispensary

Riverside Voters Will Decide Fate of Dispensaries

Voters in Riverside will decide next year whether they want to allow a small number of medical marijuana dispensaries in their city.

Proponents of a measure to allow pot shops in city limits secured enough signatures in May to guarantee a place on the ballot during the June 2015 local elections. That’s not the goal they were aiming for.Marijuana jars in dispensary

Riverside Safe Access, the group backing the initiative, gathered more than 20,000 signatures. But only about 14,000 ultimately qualified as valid, and that wasn’t enough to make the ballot during the November election.

That’s a mid-term congressional election, so turnout would be much higher than it would during a state or municipal election. And more young voters would be expected to turn out – exactly the kind most likely to back medical weed.

Instead, advocates will have to wait until next year. Still, they said they’ve achieved something rather remarkable, given the long hostility toward MMJ in Riverside.

Proponents “are excited that all their hard work has paid off, and they’re excited to have the opportunity to educate the community because they know there’s just so much misinformation out there,” said Jason Thompson, a lawyer working the group.

Riverside has long been a battleground over the legalities of medical pot. The city banned dispensaries outright in 2009 and embarked on a crackdown that persists to this day. The ban became a test case before the California Supreme Court, which ruled that Riverside and other municipalities have the right to prohibit MMJ shops.

The city attorney has shut down more than 80 dispensaries in the time since the ban took effect. MMJ advocates believe the city is cutting off access to needy patients and recriminalizing a drug voters legalized for medical use in 1996.

Despite the delay until the next election, supporters of the dispensary measure said they’re optimistic about the odds of success. Riverside isn’t the friendliest environment for medical weed, but they hope voters will put patients first.

marijuana glass jar“This is something that many people said couldn’t be done,” Thompson said. “It shows that there’s real support for this.”

The Riverside City Council must cast an official vote to place the initiative on the June 2015 ballot, but it wasn’t clear when that might happen.

The measure would allow for just 10 dispensaries in a city of more than 300,000. They could operate in commercial and industrial zones, but not near schools, parks, residences, or other dispensaries.

Riverside has become, if unintentionally, ground zero in the fight between medical marijuana proponents and hostile local government officials. If voters there can dismantle even some of the city’s ban, it could mark a turning point for MMJ in California.

About Matt Brooks

Based in San Francisco, Matt is a journalist who has specialized in marijuana policy for more than five years. He provides regular news coverage on marijuanaandthelaw.com and californiamarijuanamarket.com.

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