Voters in San Bernardino will get a final say on Election Day whether they want to allow medical marijuana dispensaries in their struggling city.
The City Council voted in early July to add a proposal to the November citywide ballot that would legalize a small number of dispensaries subject to certain regulations. Most council members were careful to stress that they oppose the idea, but voters forced them to act.
Roughly 6,000 registered voters signed a petition to end the city’s long-standing ban on medical cannabis shops, more than enough to guarantee the question would make the ballot with or without council support. Officials had just two choices: pass the proposal themselves or put it before voters in the fall.
San Bernardino is in a tricky spot when it comes to marijuana regulation. Crime rates are high, the economy is sputtering, and local politics are deeply divided. That mix of factors has left city leaders loathe to enact reforms and cannabis advocates with few options aside from a public referendum.
Anti-marijuana council members will oppose the measure
Mayor Carey Davis and other anti-pot council members made it clear they won’t let the measure pass without a fight. At a council meeting in early July, Davis argued at length that cannabis leads to increased traffic fatalities (it doesn’t), encourages students to drop out of school (it doesn’t), fuels crime rates (it doesn’t), and poisons the environment (it does, but not much).
“Regulation may not eliminate the black market,” the mayor said, noting that local users already buy marijuana illegally. “It may only create another market to police.”
Davis and fellow opponents aren’t the only ones unhappy with the ballot initiative. Even some reformers say its regulations are ineffective and unworkable.
Some city leaders who oppose the ballot proposal said it smacked of carpetbagging, with “outsiders” staking an interest in what should be a San Bernardino industry. Those officials pointed to the fact that no one from the California Cannabis Coalition, the group behind the initiative, showed up at the council meeting.
Craig Beresh, president of the coalition, said his group didn’t send anyone because the council had no choice but to approve the ballot measure. There was nothing to discuss, Beresh said.
“That was a foregone conclusion,” he said. “The bottom line is we’re happy to help the citizens with an issue of great importance. It’s the democratic process.”
Countermeasure on the ballot
Faced with a public vote that is likely to legalize dispensaries, the council opted to manipulate that process by moving to put their own countermeasure on the ballot. That item would also allow pot shops, but with tighter regulations. If both proposals were to pass, the one with the most votes would take effect.
The council voted 6-1 July 5 to direct the city’s lawyers to draft the alternative measure. They also asked City Manager Mark Scott to hire pollsters to gauge public opinion on medical marijuana businesses. Council members promised they would put their plan on the ballot only if voters say they support the other initiative.