After spending two hours discussing and listening to the public input, the city council approved 3-2 to allow a cannabis outlet for recreational use in the city during the last meeting on July 18.

This issue has been studied extensively by the council with workshops, and through the ad hoc committee formed by Councilman Mark West and Councilwoman Lorie Bragg. West and Bragg did a lot for research and visited and spoke to cannabis outlet owners. They were also in touch with representatives in Colorado in towns that have allowed outlets. 

After the passing of Prop. 64 which residents of the city approved with a 62 percent vote, the city put in place a moratorium until Feb. 2019 to allow time to create an ordinance for regulation of the industry.

This was a second reading of the ordinance which usually gets approved in the consent calendar but due to its contentious nature was instead placed in the regular agenda. A citizens’ initiative collected signatures to force the city to allow a retail outlet in the city but when the signatures were presented to a judge they were deemed invalid. The signatures if accepted would have required a special election at cost to the city around $200,000.

Regulations in the ordinance for a retail outlet include a 900 ft. buffer from schools, bus stops, and parks. Other requirements include design standards, residential buffer and cost recovery for the city. The prospective owner has to show funds of $300,000, will undergo a background check, fingerprinting, will have security and emergency plans, and proof of lawful experience are among the requirements.

During the public comment, residents were allowed to speak for two minutes with 19 people in favor and 13 against. Among the concerns raised was the risk to youth. One mother of two young boys said an outlet is “detrimental and a step back to this community…it seems contrary to everything we’ve been working for. I’m concerned about vulnerable youth.” 

A mother who has a child with a brain tumor said that thanks to marijuana the cancer has shrank 85 percent. “It’s not just a stoner drug that can kill you…I’ve watched veterans with PTSD go to concerts. This medicine heals,” she said.

Another speaker who was a drug counselor said he was against a dispensary. “Marijuana is a stepping stone to something bad. Keep this town clean, safe for the kids. Stand up and speak for the people who pay taxes,” he said.

Councilman Ed Spriggs pointed out that many speakers made references to medical marijuana which is already allowed in the city although there is no dispensary. “There’s a need to kill the black market…,” he said.

In response to some comments about a dispensary making money for the city he clarified that, “It’s not about money. We don’t have a system in place to recover enough money…we won’t make any more than the cost of overseeing and regulating,” he said.

Addressing the concern about youth, Spriggs pointed out that young people already have access through the black market. “We need to determine factually as opposed to basing it on fear that legalization will have a negative effect on youth,” he said. 

He also suggested to the city manager to collect data from the middle schools and high school and Sheriff’s Department before the ordinance takes effect and establish a baseline. “Without that it’s all speculations…I’ll be the first to say we don’t renew the license if there is evidence [of increased use among youth],” he said.

West, who has spoken to city officials in Colorado that have allowed dispensaries, feels Imperial Beach won’t suffer negative consequences. “It will be like any other business in our community, [this ordinance] is nothing more than providing safe access. I’m not fearful of approving it. It’s not killing communities or making them unsafe,” he said.

Councilman Robert Patton said he spoke to middle school and high school students who said they were against a dispensary. He pointed out that many of the recreational marijuana proponents are from out of town. “Do you go to your own city council every two weeks [to speak about this]?” he asked. “I’m sticking to my vote of no.”

“The vote represented 45 percent of the registered voters. I stand on my position…I do not support a dispensary in Imperial Beach,” said Bragg.

Mayor Serge Dedina pointed out that the biggest cause of crime in the city is alcohol followed by pharmaceuticals. “Our ordinance is a balance to control this process. I’m afraid the cannabis industry will come back and force us to have a special election and then we lose control,” he said.

The three part ordinance was approved 3 to 2 with a no vote by Bragg and Patton.

The next city council meeting will be held Aug. 1 in the council chambers at 825 Imperial Beach Boulevard at 6 p.m.

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