Santa Ana’s new Marijuana Proposal shapes up: Progress, or a Sneaky Trick?

OC Norml’s Kandice Hawes and SA Councilman Sal Tinajero; the main authors behind the two competing initiatives.

Two weeks after June 17’s somewhat contentious council meeting discussing and delaying the Santa Ana City Council’s proposed medical marijuana regulation initiative, the question in this title still seems valid.  Because we’ve seen it so many times, in the struggle for medical marijuana justice and other struggles, that when it looks like an effort may be successful, the authorities will try to co-opt it, divert it, water it down, confuse the people, and hopefully (from their point of view) delay it or kill it altogether.

But when we looked at the details of the City’s June 17 proposal, there was a lot there that looked like a well-intentioned effort at the kind of reform and regulation MMJ advocates want – not as strong as the already-ballot-qualified NORML initiative, and with several problems, but still progress and probably more likely to pass, in a town full of socially conservative Latino voters.  And when I heard that the driving force behind the City’s measure was Sal Tinajero, the Santa Ana councilman I’m most likely to trust, I was ready to give it the benefit of the doubt.

Santa Ana has been, like so many California cities, under the grip of a draconian but unenforceable BAN on all collectives and dispensaries.  Unenforceable because the demand for marijuana, medical or not, is so great, and the law enforcement resources to enforce the ban so meager, that there’s a Wild West reality out there with about 60 dispensaries at any given moment, many of them not even following state law.  A situation unacceptable to either side – neither the prohibitionists nor the advocates who want to pursue their business in a law-abiding way without advantage going to gangsters and lawbreakers.

The City’s idea is to allow a limited number of dispensaries in a limited area of Santa Ana, and tax them enough to fund the policing of the rest of the city for lawbreakers.  Advocates had several criticisms of the City’s June 17 proposal, but the overriding one was that the City never met with advocates to work out all their concerns, and that delay was needed.  And we got that delay.

Tinajero and staff still have not met with the advocates, and yet the amended proposal which the City released Friday and will discuss tomorrow night (Tuesday July 1, you can read it here) shows that they DID indeed listen to, and take into account, all the public comments and criticisms they heard June 17 – and how often does that happen, in how many cities?  There are still a few small details that should be ironed out, but it looks like we’re on track to having the first OC city following the spirit of the Compassionate Use Act and regulating itself in a sensible way.

The positive changes (as well as a few restrictive but reasonable changes) are conveniently listed on pages 2-4 of the 60-page staff report

  • The most notable feature to be amended was the limit on number of collective/cooperatives, the areas in the city they could be (which was going to be restricted to the southwest and southeast industrial areas, near the airport and South Coast Plaza – too far for patients from the north and center of town to travel) and the minimum distance between facilities.  Those three factors would have combined to allow no more than six or so facilities in the southeast and southwest.  Now the cap has been removed, the minimum distance has been reduced to 500 feet, and it will be SUGGESTED there could also be two facilities per ward in those wards’ “professional” or “arterial/commercial” zones … which could allow for as many as 18 facilities in the city – much more reasonable for a town the size of Santa Ana!
  • Some restrictions have been tightened:  the hours for these facilities will be 10-8 except for Sundays 11-7;  and you must be at least 21 to enter unless accompanied by an adult parent or guardian.  This last bit worries advocates, since many folks who need medical marijuana are vets with PTSD and so on, a lot of whom are under 21.
  • Several privacy-threatening measures were removed thanks to a warning letter from attorney Matt Pappas pointing out how those measures could be challenged in court.
  • There’s more interesting stuff to look at there on page 3 – a possible “registration application and Regulatory Safety Permit” and a “Request for Proposals” instead of a lottery system – which will be discussed tomorrow night.

All of this still has to pass the council, and then be approved by voters in November.  But it’s shaping up to look like actual progress, toward making a city where folks who need their medical marijuana can get it with nobody ending up raided or in jail.  Another stop on the long march to where marijuana is as legal and regulated as the much more dangerous drug alcohol, of course.  And our prisons drain out correspondingly.  Since only one of the two competing initiatives can take effect, and since they both seem good, this blog will probably recommend Santa Ana voters to vote yes on both and let the most popular one win.

And this measure is just in time for the new, improved SB 1262, which is on track to becoming law real soon, is a lot improved from Lou Correa’s original bill, and will require cities to do what Santa Ana is now doing on its own.

About Vern Nelson

Greatest pianist/composer in Orange County, and official troubador of both Anaheim and Huntington Beach (the two ends of the Santa Ana Aquifer.) Performs regularly both solo, and with his savage-jazz quintet The Vern Nelson Problem. Reach at, or 714-235-VERN.