SAN JOSE -- Medical marijuana supporters on Monday filed an initiative that would ask voters to keep pot shops open throughout most of San Jose, fighting back against city leaders who are trying to close the stores down.
Dispensary owners will soon begin collecting signatures to get the measure on the November ballot -- a pre-emptive strike to pressure the City Council against enacting sweeping new rules on pot shops.
Facing a growing outcry over public safety, the city last month began sending letters to dispensaries near homes, ordering them to "cease operations" or face big fines and potentially criminal prosecution. Now, the council is set to vote on banning pot shops in more than 99 percent of the city, prohibiting them from operating anywhere near homes, schools, churches and other similar places.
The weed group's initiative, however, would establish a "minimum" of 50 medical marijuana stores in the city, keep all current dispensaries in business and only prevent new shops from opening within 1,000 feet of a school. Even children would be able to toke up under "rare cases" where a physician approves.
It would also establish a taxpayer-funded bureaucrat to oversee a new 11-member "cannabis commission."
"This will create a regulatory body to insure the clubs operate properly and address any concerns and impacts to the community," said proponent Dave Hodges, founder of the All American Cannabis Club. Otherwise, it will be "more chaos -- the continued wild west of the city of San Jose and probably more underground black market activity."
Hodges said he hopes the council will simply enact their measure when they vote on the regulations in March to avoid a fight at the ballot box. That strategy worked in 2011, when the council backed off new rules limiting pot shops after the cannabis group gathered enough signatures to put a referendum on the ballot.
But now eight council members are running for office in June -- including five council members vying to replace termed-out Mayor Chuck Reed -- and are jostling to prove they are tough on crime, making them leery of allowing pot shops to proliferate. Councilwoman and mayoral candidate Rose Herrera, in particular, is leading the charge among a council minority to eradicate dispensaries altogether, saying they are providing drugs to local teens and draining police resources.
"I certainly do not want to see us back down," Herrera said. The dispensaries "have proven to me that they do not want to be regulated. They are going to oppose anything we do -- so we need to ban them."
San Jose currently has about 80 dispensaries, which are legal in California but illegal under federal law. More than 200 cities in California have banned pot shops and dozens of others have passed regulations limiting them.
The Silicon Valley Cannabis Coalition filed a "notice of intent' for the measure with the City Clerk's office Monday. After receiving a formal title and summary form the city later this month, they will have until May 16 to collect 20,372 signatures to qualify the measure for the November ballot.
Contact Mike Rosenberg at 408-920-5705. Follow him at twitter.com/RosenbergMerc.