Chula Vista has a big choice to make when it comes to marijuana: Should it oppose an initiative from an outside group that would legalize marijuana sales and distribution, or should it draft its own version?
I oppose the sale and use of marijuana. That said, there are two distinct paths the city can take; the right path or the best path.
The right path would for the city of Chula Vista to continue to prohibit the sale of marijuana. Marijuana brings a lot of negative consequences, from increased homelessness, increased drug-related traffic deaths, children overdosing and other problems.
The problem with the right path, though, is that it may not be winnable at the voter booth. In other words, can we oppose and defeat the initiatives submitted by the marijuana industry? The two initiatives submitted to the city of Chula Vista are loosely worded and will not provide the protective restrictions as seen in other city ordinances. As written, these initiatives will make Chula Vista the wild west of marijuana.
The best path may be to create our own initiative that legalizes the production, cultivation and sales of marijuana in a more responsible way.
The reality is that, like Proposition 64, which legalized the recreational use of marijuana across the state, the local marijuana initiatives may have a good chance of being passed. I want to make sure that doesn’t happen.
A city initiative would most likely prohibit dispensaries from operating too close to schools, day care centers, churches, playgrounds and other similar buildings – restrictions the current initiatives don’t have. A city initiative would also include restrictions on who could operate a marijuana-related business. This might include prohibiting felons or those who have operated an illegal dispensary in Chula Vista. The city’s initiative would also tax the sale of marijuana in Chula Vista, ensuring that we create a funding stream to address all the problems that are created by this drug, including money for administration, criminal prosecution, police, emergency services, homeless services, inspections, education and treatment.
But the best path has its own disadvantages, too. For one, it legalizes a substance that the federal government still classifies as a class one drug. So what happens if the federal government starts to really crack down on the sale of marijuana? No one has a clear answer.
The second problem it creates is a black market for cheaper products. All of the restrictions, regulations and taxation on legal marijuana will make it much more expensive, thus creating a lucrative black market for illegal marijuana. Chula Vista is already experiencing overt illegal marijuana sales. My district has at least nine illegal dispensaries operating. Why would we think that would go away if we allow dispensaries to operate legally in our city?
No matter what path the Chula Vista City Council takes, we must provide our city attorney with the resources to prosecute owners of illegal marijuana dispensaries. Our city attorney currently enforces our prohibition on marijuana dispensaries by going after tenants and building owners in civil court. This has proven to be a very slow and ineffective way of closing down illegal dispensaries. We can change that by providing our city attorney with additional staff who have prosecution experience.
Lastly, many supporters of marijuana legalization say it can bring millions in new taxes to the city. The fact is that most of the money generated would be spent on education, regulation, enforcement, treatment, reducing homelessness and administration.
I and other city officials visited Aurora, Colo., recently to see how it is dealing with the industry. The police officers there are saying they are understaffed and have not been given any additional resources to deal with the sharp rise in crime.
So while it might not be the right decision, the best decision is for city leaders to carefully write our own initiative that legalizes the production, cultivation and sales of marijuana in a much more responsible way than the marijuana industry’s initiative. The difference is that our initiative would be focused on protecting the community.
Mike Diaz represents District 4 on the Chula Vista City Council. Diaz’ commentary has been edited for style and clarity. See anything in there we should fact check? Tell us what to check out here.