Encinitas studies ways to deal with legalized marijuana

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The Encinitas City Council is contemplating how the city should respond to state voters recently approving the recreational use of marijuana. The Council is considering whether the city should allow stores to sell marijuana, permit nurseries to grow it, and allow the manufacture and sale of such byproducts as cannabis oils, creams, edibles or hash products.

One local grower, Bob Echter, whose company Dramm & Echter grows and sells gerbera daisies and other flowers, appeared before the Council in mid-February and said he wished to transform a portion of his flower-growing greenhouse business into marijuana cultivation.

In her weekly e-newsletter Mayor Catherine Blakespear subsequently commented, “It’s clear that the plants being grown inside the greenhouses are entirely obscured from view. I expect that if we allow marijuana to be grown here, it would be a similarly private enterprise.”

In response to Echter’s request, the Encinitas City Council formed a subcommittee of Deputy Mayor Tony Kranz and Council Member Joe Mosca “to bring back narrowly tailored options related to cultivation,” Blakespear writes. “At least three of us, including me, stated that we wouldn’t support marijuana dispensaries, i.e. shop fronts, at this time. Previously a majority of the City Council, including me, confirmed that we support mobile dispensaries for medical marijuana so residents who need it for medical reasons can get it through a delivery service.

“Last November, 65% of Encinitas voters chose to legalize marijuana – the highest percentage of the county’s 18 cities. But there’s a big difference between voting to legalize it, and wanting stores that sell it in our commercial areas. Our job as policy makers is to consider what is best for the entire city, weighing a large number of sometimes competing values.

“One of our most persistent complaints relates to our downtown bars – specifically objections to noise, parking problems and impaired people behaving poorly, including shouting, fighting, littering, loitering, affecting traffic flow, etc. I know that alcohol and marijuana affect people very differently. But the question comes down to whether the city’s environment – our much cherished community character – would be improved by allowing stores to sell marijuana. I don’t believe it would positively improve our commercial areas.

“Additionally, there is no need for Encinitas to be in the vanguard here. At this point, only the city of San Diego is allowing recreational dispensing, and that’s only from the 15 stores that already legally sell medical marijuana. No city in the county has officially authorized growing recreational marijuana.

“It’s important to remember the context in which California’s laws are positioned. Even though California voters opted to legalize it, federal law still classifies marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug (in the same category as heroin). This means that banks are reluctant to establish business accounts for marijuana businesses, so they exist in a legal netherworld. They often operate on a cash basis because of this, which can result in an increased crime risk. Ancillary business services are also be affected by this unclear legal status – insurance, accounting, human resources, security, transportation.

“The recent change in the tone from the federal government, especially the rhetoric that seems to place less emphasis on state’s rights and more emphasis on “law and order,” further concerns me.

“If this time in history is similar to the end of alcohol prohibition in 1933, we’ll have plenty of time as a city to make decisions about the type and number of marijuana businesses that we’re comfortable having in Encinitas. There is no rush; we can afford to take this process slowly and seriously consider these decisions.”

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