Organizers seek ballot measure to keep pot shops

SAN JOSE, Calif.

The campaign for the proposed measure, called the Medical Marijuana Regulation for San Jose Act of 2014, would need to gather about 20,000 valid signatures from registered voters to quality for the fall ballot, measure organizer Dave Hodges said.

The measure would legalize marijuana collectives in San Jose, whereby patients legally prescribed the drug by a doctor may come together to "form medical cannabis collectives for the purpose of acquiring or cultivating and manufacturing medical cannabis solely for the personal medical use of the members who are qualified patients."

Proponents of the proposed referendum claim that it would provide "a city-wide scheme for implementing" medical marijuana laws that the state's voters passed in 1996, allowing doctors to prescribe marijuana to patients who need it for health reasons.

The petition drive for the measure comes on the heels of efforts by the city of San Jose to prepare a law that Hodges' group believes would drastically reduce the number of legal marijuana dispensaries in the city, now numbering up to about 80, Hodges said.

"The city is trying to close all clubs and start afresh and operate five," said Hodges, who started his pot collective, the All American Cannabis Club, five years ago.

City spokesman David Vossbrink said that marijuana dispensaries operating in the city for the past couple of years do not comply with state or city law.

The City Council voted 8-3 on Dec. 10 to direct staff to write a law restricting them "to minimize the confusion that exists today," Vossbrink said.

The city's ordinance would keep dispensaries 1,000 feet away from schools, churches, public libraries and parks and other collectives and at least 150 feet from a "residential use," Vossbrink said.

With those restrictions, dispensaries would be limited to only a small number of parcels in industrial areas of San Jose, Vossbrink said.

The city proposal "would be quite a bit more restrictive" than the ballot measure, which calls for restricting cannabis organizations to within 1,000 feet from public and private elementary, middle and secondary schools, Vossbrink said.

Angelique Gaeta, assistant to the city manager, said San Jose acted to urge restrictions marijuana dispensaries following a recent disturbing trend of public school students suspended for marijuana use, based in part on a misunderstanding about the legality of the drug.

Some irresponsible parents "are looking the other way" as their students use pot from the dispensaries and some parents buy marijuana for their kids with doctor's prescriptions, thinking that pot "is legal in California," Gaeta said.

In some neighborhoods near dispensaries, residents are complaining that buyers of the drug smoke it while sitting in cars and then drive through the streets, endangering children, Gaeta said.

The City Attorney's office has 10 days to prepare a summary of the proposed ballot measure to be placed on petitions for the measure's proponents, who will have until about mid-May to collect the 20,000 signatures required to make the November ballot, Vossbrink said.

The referendum drive will need to raise funds to pay for a professional signature gathering company to circulate its petitions, Hodges said.

The measure proposes the a "minimum of fifty (50) medical cannabis dispensaries" be registered in the city, a number that would be "reasonably adjusted by the San Jose Cannabis Commission" and "based on the number of San Jose residents who have conditions for which cannabis provides relief."

The cannabis commission would oversee licensing, address community complaints and ensure safety for groups that grow or sell marijuana or make marijuana-infused goods, such as edible and topical products, Hodges said.

The act would require areas where pot is grown to be secured from public access with locked gates, have security measures preventing non-members from entering and prevent the public from seeing the growing plants, according to the measure.

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