San Jose medical marijuana measure headed to voters; would weaken pot shop rules

By Mike Rosenberg

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 a while 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.

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