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Two marijuana measures to appear on the March 7 ballot

Cory Alexander Haywood | 3/2/2017, midnight

The City of Los Angeles stands alone as the largest market for marijuana in the United States. It’s estimated to rival the entire state of Colorado’s billion-dollar industry, with approximately 1,000 retail shops, dozens of independent cultivators, delivery services, testing labs, ‘edibles’ bakers and concentrate makers operating in the city. However, many of those businesses pay no city taxes, and virtually none of them are licensed.

Two competing measures on the ballot March 7—Measure M and Measure N—aim to change that.

Proposition M was put together by the City Council and mayor. The legislation seeks voter agreement to adopt an ordinance that will create a regulatory framework for commercial cannabis activities after a series of public hearings featuring stakeholders such as neighborhood councils, law enforcement officials, and city residents.

Priority in processing the new facilities will be given to existing medical cannabis establishments. The legislation will also authorize the city to establish new gross receipts taxes on medical cannabis sales (5 percent); recreational cannabis (10 percent), transportation, research, manufacturing, and cultivation, effective Jan. 1, 2018.

Finally, it would establish criminal and civil penalties for businesses that violate the new marijuana regulations, and authorize the Department of Water and Power to shut off utilities in illegal pot shops.

A Yes vote means you want the council and mayor to retain the authority to comprehensively regulate commercial cannabis activity in the city after conducting public hearings and tax commercial cannabis activities.

A No vote means you do not want the council and mayor to regulate commercial cannabis activity in the manner described.

Measure M would give the City Council and mayor permission to repeal Proposition D—adopted by voters in 2013 to curb the spread of medical marijuana dispensaries—and to replace it with a new set of rules covering all aspects of the industry, from where marijuana businesses can be located and the hours they may operate, to how they market their products. Those initial regulations would be developed and adopted later this year after a series of public hearings.

Measure N, by contrast, would impose an industry-written regulatory scheme on the city, while giving a monopoly over the local marijuana trade to the 135 dispensaries allowed under Proposition D unless the City Council voted to expand the number of permits.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Proposition N was written by those quasi-legal dispensaries, who have since disavowed it and thrown their support to M.

Angelenos ended up with two measures on the ballot courtesy of a familiar pattern that often plays out at the local level. When a city is slow to tackle a hot-button issue, a special interest group seizes the opportunity to get a measure on the ballot that benefits its own players. The city responds by hurrying to craft a competing measure. Then the special interest group abandons its initiative, pleased to have forced some reform and knowing the city effort is more likely to win.

That’s how marijuana policies changed recently in Costa Mesa, Santa Ana and Long Beach. And it’s how change is poised to happen March 7 in Los Angeles, says writer Brooke Edwards Staggs, Orange County Register.

The United Cannabis Business Alliance qualified Measure N for the ballot back in October. And though the organization now supports Measure M, that decision came too late to pull their measure from the ballot. However, the group was able to include a statement in the voter information pamphlet urging voters to back the city proposition.

If both Measure M and Measure N still get more than 50 percent of the vote March 7, the one with the most votes wins.