Pubdate: Wed, 01 Oct 2014
Source: San Jose Mercury News (CA)
Copyright: 2014 San Jose Mercury News
Author: Mike Rosenberg
Page: A1


SAN JOSE - Voters will have a chance to overturn San Jose's strict 
new regulations on pot shops in favor of looser rules, though it will 
be awhile before the weed war ignites at the ballot.

The City Council in June voted to limit all shops to select 
industrial areas that make up less than 1 percent of San Jose, while 
the surviving marijuana stores would then have to adopt costly new 
safety and operational standards. Angry opponents argued that 
virtually all of San Jose's 80 dispensaries would have to close by 
the time the rules take full effect in summer 2015 and had warned 
they would try to overturn the law change at the ballot box.

The new measure, backed by a group of medical marijuana supporters 
with a history of fighting City Hall, would allow dispensaries to 
open in commercial zones that will soon become pot-free. Elections 
officials announced this week that the group had gathered about 
25,000 valid signatures, about 5,000 more than needed for the 
initiative to be placed before voters.

It is the second time in the last three years that marijuana 
activists have qualified a measure to overturn tough regulations 
adopted at City Hall. The last effort, a referendum, led city leaders 
to withdraw the rules and go back to the drawing board rather than 
put them to a public vote. But city leaders this time around say they 
won't change anything unless voters approve the new measure two years 
from now - and polls indicate the measure faces an uphill battle.

After meeting on the issue Tuesday, the council is expected in the 
coming weeks to place the measure on the next regular election 
ballot, in June 2016, as it would cost $3.5 million for a special 
election before then.

Council members, who requested more information on how the initiative 
could affect the city, could avoid the cost and hassle of an election 
by simply adopting the marijuana supporters' proposal, but they think 
they have the public on their side. A recent city commissioned poll 
showed 74 percent of likely voters supported the city's new 
regulations amid concerns that the pot shops were degrading 
neighborhoods, supplying kids with drugs and contributing to crime.

What's more, Mayor Chuck Reed has vowed to lead a campaign to defeat 
the measure even after he is termed out at the end of this year. He 
is already questioning whether allowing pot shops in commercial zones 
could lead neighborhood business districts such as downtown Willow 
Glen to turn into "Little Amsterdam." He said he had "grave concerns" 
about the initiative, and his allies on the council agreed.

"I can't believe that this actually passed muster," Councilman Johnny 
Khamis said of the initiative making the ballot. He was one of the 
council members who accused signature gatherers of telling voters the 
new rules banned pot shops. (Marijuana activists say some signature 
gatherers may have been referring to an initial proposal from the 
city earlier this year to possibly outlaw dispensaries.)

Yet the group behind the initiative, called Sensible San Jose, argues 
that if the rules wind up being so harsh that all shops have to 
close, the city would lose $5 million in tax revenue from the shops 
while some legitimately ill weed smokers would turn to drug dealers. 
Polls also indicate the left-leaning San Jose electorate is strongly 
opposed to a complete ban on dispensaries, and by the June 2016 
election, the new rules will have been in effect for a year - long 
enough to tell if they're working.

"It gives us an option. Is it a de-facto ban? Have prices gone 
through the roof, has quality of service declined, have patients gone 
back to the underground market?" said Sensible San Jose Chairman 
James Anthony, an Oakland-based attorney. "My guess is it won't be a 
functional system."

Seven cannabis shops - representing less than 10 percent of existing 
dispensaries - have been granted permits to operate under the new 
rules starting next year, and a couple others are expected to be approved soon.

Following the council's 7-3 vote in June to adopt the new 
regulations, opponents had divided into two groups. Before Sensible 
San Jose's measure was cleared for the ballot, a different group, 
which promoted even looser regulations, failed in its initiative 
drive when election officials declared most of their signatures were bogus.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom