A bid to let Vista voters decide whether to allow at least 10 medical marijuana dispensaries in the city continues to progress, with backers of the citizens’ initiative collecting far more signatures than needed to force the matter onto the ballot.

But just how many of the signers are valid registered voters remains to be seen.

Vista currently forbids dispensaries. The proposed initiative would authorize at one dispensary for every 10,000 residents and allow the city to license, regulate and tax them at 7 percent. City Council members, who have signaled willingness to consider allowing two dispensaries, have said they fear the initiative is too permissive.

Last week, the initiative’s backers submitted petitions with more than 8,200 signatures to the city. Those petitions are now in the hands of county election officials, who have until Sept. 21 to verify that the signatures are from valid registered Vista voters.

In order to get the matter on the ballot in the next general election — November 2018 — backers must gather the signatures of at least 4,217 Vista voters, which is 10 percent of the electorate. But valid signatures of 6,326 voters — 15 percent — could force a special election, at the cost of roughly $350,000 to the city.

A group calling itself Vistans for Safe Community Access — backed by two corporations with ties to the medical marijuana industry — is funding the push for the initiative.

Former City Councilman Cody Campbell, who is working as a consultant on the initiative campaign, said he is confident they gathered enough valid signatures to force a special election — which is what they are aiming for — and that the initiative itself will pass if it lands in front of voters.

“Based on the thousands and thousands of signatures collected, the Vista community wants to allow safe access in Vista,” Campbell said.

Related: Marijuana-shop interests say San Diego County seeks to destroy businesses

The push to get medical marijuana dispensaries on the ballot in Vista has been around for a while, but submitting signatures for verification is the farthest along the efforts have gotten. An attempt this past spring failed when the city rejected the petitions due to a technical flaw, so the group had to hit the streets again to collect new signatures.

Vista City Council members have opposed the initiative, saying it is too permissive, that it would allow far too many dispensaries and in too many differing locations throughout the city, and would make it harder to deter or shut down illegal shops.

However, the Council has signaled it will consider coming up with its own rules, to allow for perhaps two dispensaries, with heavy restrictions and limitations on where they could go.

“I just want to provide safe reliable access to Vistans who need their medication,” said Councilman Joe Green, who earlier this year initiated the council talks to consider two or three dispensaries.

Allowing the dispensaries would mark a U-turn for Vista, which since 2013 has spent upwards of $1 million to go after more than three dozen of them. The city has also taken the unusual step of going after some store operators, staffers and even landlords in criminal court for misdemeanor violations of city zoning regulations. Still, some shops reopen.

Public attitudes about marijuana have shifted toward acceptance. Medicinal use of marijuana has been legal in California for more than two decades, and last year California voters passed a proposition legalizing it for recreational use.

And a recent city-commissioned poll of 400 Vista voters found that more than half of them backed the idea of allowing dispensaries to open in the city.

Then there is another proposal newly joining the mix. The Association of Cannabis Professionals has said it plans to circulate petitions in six cities in the county, including Vista, to regulate zoning for cannabis businesses. Vista posted the title and summary for that proposal online Wednesday afternoon.

Dallin Young, executive director of the association, said Wednesday that he anticipates they will start circulating their petitions in Vista within the next week.

© 2017 San Diego Union Tribune, www.sandiegouniontribune.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

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