Calif. City Must Hold Vote on Pot Dispensaries

     SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. (CN) – A California appeals court ordered the City of Upland to hold a special election to vote on a nonprofit corporation’s proposed medical marijuana dispensary initiative.
     Written and sponsored by the nonprofit California Cannabis Coalition (CCC), the medical marijuana initiative petition aims to repeal Upland’s existing laws prohibiting any medical marijuana dispensaries from operating within city limits.
     The proposal would adopt regulations allowing for the dispensaries to operate within the city if certain standards are met.
     If voters approve it, the initiative would allow the city to grant permits to a maximum of three medical marijuana dispensaries.
     Since the operation of a dispensary would require a business permit, CCC’s petition proposes an annual $75,000 licensing and inspection fee to be paid to the city.
     Having first presented the initiative to the city, proponents Nicole De La Rosa and James Velez gathered 6,865 signatures to meet the required 15 percent of voters needed for the proposal to qualify for a special election.
     Upland city council members decided in March 2015 that the initiative did not qualify for a special election after determining the licensing fee was actually a general tax – since the revenue would surpass the estimated licensing and inspection cost – and the tax-related initiative” needed to be voted on during the general election in November.
     A special election was also estimated to cost the city $179,800, compared to just $25,000 to put the proposal on the November ballot, according to court records.
     In appealing the decision to place the pot initiative on the next general election ballot, supporters of the plan challenged the city’s tax revenue finding by arguing that the decision is actually an attempt to prevent a special election because Upland opposes the initiative.
     CCC and initiative proponents also contend that the city is violating elections law and the California Constitution because the $75,000 licensing and inspection fee would be a voter-imposed cost, rather than a tax imposed by the city.
     A three-judge panel of the California Court of Appeals Fourth Appellate District agreed last Friday.
     “Taxation imposed by initiative is not taxation imposed by local government,” Justice Carol Codrington wrote for the panel.
     Friday’s ruling states that the revenue imposed by drafters or proponents of an initiative, and later received by a local government, is not a local tax and, “to conclude otherwise would interfere with the initiative power” granted by state law.
     Codrington said CCC’ proposal “must be construed liberally in favor of the people’s right to exercise the reserved powers of initiative and referendum.”
     The appeals court agreed that waiting for the general election in November to vote on the petition interfered with CCC’s right of initiative.
     The panel ruled, that if the proposed initiative is not adopted by city ordinance within 10 days, a special election must be immediately ordered so the plan can be put to a vote.
     “Here, the initiative qualifies under [elections code] for a special election, since the initiative petition was signed by at least 15 percent of the city voters and the initial initiative petition contained a request that the initiative be submitted immediately to a vote of the people at a special election,” Codrington wrote. “Therefore the city is required to place the initiative on a special election ballot.”

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