Pubdate: Tue, 10 Jun 2014
Source: Press-Enterprise (Riverside, CA)
Copyright: 2014 The Press-Enterprise Company
Author: Alicia Robinson


Initiative would legalize and regulate a handful of pot dispensaries;
city argues it would violate state, federal law

Less than a month after medical-marijuana supporters learned they had
collected enough signatures to get their measure on Riverside's ballot
in 2015, the city has filed a lawsuit to stop the county registrar
from putting the issue before voters.

Riverside currently bans all marijuana dispensaries through its zoning
code. Last year, the state Supreme Court sided with the city in a
legal challenge to the ban.

The ballot measure would legalize, tax and regulate dispensaries in
the city, allowing a small number of them in restricted locations.

The initiative is unlawful and "goes beyond the legislative powers of
the electorate" because it would force the city to violate state and
federal laws, including the federal Controlled Substances Act, the
city's attorneys argue in a June 4 court filing.

Interim Riverside County Registrar of Voters Rebecca Spencer said she
can't comment because she has not yet been served with the suit.

Attorney Jason Thompson, representing initiative backers Riverside
Safe Access, called the city's move "the nuclear option to interfere
with the democratic process" and added that typically cities will let
an election play out before acting, since the ballot measure might not

The lawsuit against the registrar was filed at the City Council's
direction, Riverside spokesman Phil Pitchford wrote in an email. He
declined to comment on why officials chose to sue now rather than
waiting to see if voters approved the measure.

On Monday, City Attorney Greg Priamos was out of the office and Deputy
City Attorney Neil Okazaki was in court, and neither responded to a
request for comment.

The suit argues that the ballot measure would cause the city to break
local and state laws requiring its rules not conflict with state or
federal legislation, and that it would create zoning rules that
violate federal drug laws.

The intersection of federal and state marijuana laws is "a hornets'
nest of conflicts" but many states - including California - have
chosen to allow medical use of marijuana despite the federal
prohibition, said Jessica Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law School
in Los Angeles.

Riverside's argument, that the local marijuana measure exceeds voters'
authority, is common in fights over ballot issues, she said.

Levinson said she hasn't read the proposed initiative or Riverside's
suit, but if the city is right, "It's not contravening the democratic
process. ... It says, 'This is illegal, so why should it go through
the democratic process?'"

Thompson said he's surprised the city would take this step on the
heels of a May 30 vote by the U.S. House to stop federal interference
with state medical marijuana laws.

If the city prevails, Thompson believes the decision could invalidate
other cities' attempts to regulate medical marijuana. "They're arguing
to take away the rights of the local municipality," he said.

City Council members backed the attempt to block the ballot measure,
but they appear to have mixed feelings on the issue of medical marijuana.

Councilman Steve Adams, who is running for Congress, opposes allowing
marijuana dispensaries in Riverside.

"We can't support activity that's against federal and state law," he
said. "If the laws change, then the city of Riverside would have to

Councilman Mike Gardner has a different view. He said he sees medical
value in marijuana in some cases, but he doesn't support the state's
current system that "allows anybody with $125 and a complaint of pain
to get a (marijuana) recommendation."

If the city loses its bid to block the measure, Gardner said, he would
vote to place the issue on the ballot.

"If there are enough qualifying signatures, I think ethically we have
to, whether you agree with it personally or not," he said.

Also contributing to this report: Staff writer Richard K. De Atley
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