As multiple marijuana measures go to the ballot in Vista, proponents of the citizen’s initiative, Measure Z, have invested more than a half-million dollars toward legalizing pot sales in the city.
Two campaign committees supporting the measure, which would allow up to 11 marijuana retailers to operate in the city, have spent a total of $575,469 since 2016 to get the initiative on the ballot and promote its passage.
Measure Z, sponsored by citizens and businesses, is one of three measures on the Nov. 6 ballot that would permit and regulate marijuana sales. Two additional city-sponsored initiatives, Measures AA and BB, would allow up to three delivery-only medical marijuana dispensaries, and set tax rates on those businesses.
With the multiple marijuana measures and six-figure campaign spending has come confusion. If all three measures pass, the one that receives the most votes would likely prevail, legal experts said. Specific provisions of the proposals may be subject to interpretation, however, and could lead to legal disputes.
“The higher number of votes is the one that would take effect under state law,” said Rick Hasen, a professor at Loyola Law School, a specialist in election law. “But that’s only if they’re competing. Sometimes, there’s overlaps, and that’s where there’s legal challenges.”
Vista City Attorney Darold Pieper agreed that provisions of the higher-ranking initiative would take precedence, but said prior court rulings don’t provide simple guidance for that process.
“There is case law out there, but it is all very fact-specific,” Pieper said. “So you have to look at each one and take them apart piece by piece, to see what may be left.”
In addition, the city has warned supporters of Measure Z to stop distributing campaign flyers in support of municipal candidates, without stating that the promotions are not affiliated with their campaigns. The city attorney issued cease-and-desist letters to one of the pro-pot campaigns regarding flyers distributed last month in support of mayoral candidate Joe Green and council candidate Corinna Contreras.
In violation of campaign finance laws, the flyers were designed to appear as if they came from the candidates themselves, and didn’t clearly disclose who paid for them, the city attorney stated. Green told the city attorney and The San Diego Union-Tribune that he had no role in creating or distributing the material. Contreras could not be reached for comment.
The large cash infusions and flurry of campaign messages reflect the interests at stake, as marijuana producers and retailers and their supporters seek to secure legal sales outlets in the region. If voters approve the measure, Vista would become the first city in North County to allow storefront marijuana sales.
“They want Measure Z on the ballot because, at the end of the day, they want safe and reliable access for medical cannabis patients,” said former Vista Councilman Cody Campbell, now a campaign consultant for the campaign.
The measure qualified for the ballot last September, allowing Vista voters in this year’s general election to weigh in on retail sales of both medical and adult use marijuana.
Measure Z, proposed by the pro-pot organization Vistans for Safe Community Access, would authorize retail medical marijuana sales for up to 11 businesses, at shops located in the city’s commercial, industrial, business park and mixed-use commercial/residential zoning districts. It would also impose a 7 percent special tax on gross sales.
The proposal followed two separate petition drives, the first of which was rejected for technical errors in the paperwork. The second qualified for this year’s general election, but not a special election, as supporters had hoped.
In June, the city council, seeking to gain a handle on potential pot sales, approved an alternate ballot initiative that would permit more restricted marijuana business. Measure BB would allow just three delivery-only medical pot retailers and two product safety testing laboratories, located exclusively in industrial or manufacturing zones and part of the city’s business park.
Measure AA, also proposed by the council, would tax marijuana cultivation at $14 per square foot of cultivation facilities, and tax gross sales at up to 3.5 percent for testing labs, 8 percent for manufacturing and distribution, 10 percent for medical cannabis, and 12 percent for adult-use pot sales.
Between the lengthy petition drives and the referendum campaign, Vistans for Safe Community Access collected total contributions of $467,869, according to campaign filings with the Vista City Clerk.
That included campaign contributions of $191,118 in 2016, $227,101 in 2017 and $49,650 this year. The largest contributor was Jda Property Management Group, LLC, which donated $93,493 in 2016 and $201,887 in 2017. Another donor, Dub Brothers Management, LLC, contributed $85,125 in 2016.
Campbell said that’s not all going to campaign ads. The majority of that money, particularly contributions made in 2016 and 2017, funded the multiple petition drives needed to put the measure on the ballot, he said.
A separate organization listed as “Safe Vista-Safe Access-Safe Community, Yes on Measure Z, sponsored by Barry Walker, prospective licensee” collected donations totaling $107,600, including $72,600 from Walker and $35,000 from Jay Tee Investments, Inc. Dub Brothers reported an additional $35,000 loan to that committee on Tuesday.
On Oct. 2, the committee reported expenditures of $5,839 on a campaign flyer in support of council candidate Corinna Contreras. On Oct. 19, that committee reported spending $13,673 on campaign flyers for Councilman Joe Green, who is challenging incumbent Mayor Judy Ritter for her seat.
The city attorney received complaints about the flyers, which didn’t cite the committee’s full name, identify Walker as a potential licensee, or include a disclaimer that the ad was not authorized by the candidates.
“If it’s an independent expenditure, the candidate can in no way be involved in the flyer,” Pieper said. “There’s a no coordination rule. Otherwise, it would exceed campaign contribution limits.”
Pieper issued a cease-and-desist notice ordering the committee’s organizers to stop distributing the materials, or face potential misdemeanor charges and fines.
During council debates on the measures, Green expressed support for legalizing access, noting that 57 percent of Vista voters voted for Proposition 64, which legalized marijuana in California, and an equal percentage favored retail sales in Vista, according to a city-commissioned poll. Those positions may have led Measure Z proponents to conclude that he would be a preferable candidate for mayor. Green said, however, that he had no part in the flyer, which included photos of him with his family and campaign volunteers, and the web address to his website. He responded to the city attorney with the following statement:
“I’m in receipt of your cease-and-desist notice and wanted to respond in writing ASAP. The information contained in the mailers was sent from a PAC unaffiliated with my campaign. All photos, web sites, and information was obtained via public access and was in no way authorized or produced, by me, my campaign committee, or members. I appreciate your diligence in insuring compliance with FPPC regulations for all candidates for office. If you have any questions or concerns regarding this matter, please feel free to contact me anytime.”
Pieper said Contreras has not responded to his inquiry about the campaign flyers. Contreras did not respond to requests for comment by the San Diego Union-Tribune.
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