BY JORDAN GRAHAM / STAFF WRITER
For the second time in nine days, Costa Mesa has certified a petition to bring medical marijuana dispensaries to town, likely giving voters a second option to legalize pot shops in a probable early 2015 special election.
The City Clerk on Wednesday certified that enough of the initiative’s 10,904 signatures are valid to qualify for a special election. Last week, the clerk verified that another initiative had received the 7,385 signatures – 15 percent of registered voters – required for certification.
The clerk’s announcement begins a countdown requiring the Costa Mesa City Council to vote within the next two months whether to adopt either initiative as law or call for a special election to allow voters to decide. The council has also discussed creating its own marijuana ballot measure to compete with the two petition-induced options.
The two initiatives call for similar restrictions. Both include a 6 percent sales tax, operating hours ending at 10 p.m., mandatory employee background checks and a 1,000-foot buffer between dispensaries.
The difference between the two options is that the first (the Act to Restrict and Regulate the Operation of Medical Marijuana Businesses, or ARRO) allows up to eight pot shops to operate, while the second allows for only four. However, both initiatives allow the City Council to increase the number of marijuana dispensary licenses available but never to decrease the count.
If one of the initiatives passes, Costa Mesa would be only the second city in Orange County to legally allow medical marijuana dispensaries to operate, said attorney David Welch, who represents the committee which drafted Costa Mesa’s second initiative.
The only municipality in the county to allow pot shops is Laguna Woods, though a city representative said no dispensaries currently operate there. Santa Ana residents on Tuesday will consider two ballot measures to bring medical marijuana to the city.
A special election in Costa Mesa would likely be held in February or March, and cost in excess of $200,000, according to the city. If both measures are approved by voters, the initiative with the most votes will be enacted.
The City Council will consider the initiatives at its Nov. 18 meeting, but will also have the option of asking staff to report back within 30 days with information on the fiscal, safety and land-use impacts of the measures.
In August, Councilman Gary Monahan asked the council to consider placing a medical cannabis initiative on the Nov. 4 general election ballot, but the motion didn’t make it to a vote.
In 2012, a group of Costa Mesa medical marijuana activists fell 108 signatures short of getting a pot-shop question on the ballot. That same year, federal authorities raided and shut down several Costa Mesa marijuana dispensaries.
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