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Santa Monica Medical Marijuana Supporters Establish Campaign Committee

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Staff Writer

August 27, 2014 -- Medical marijuana proponents who filed for a ballot measure initiative to establish two Santa Monica dispensaries in May have begun receiving donations and circulating their petitions, according to documents filed with the City Clerk's office.

A group calling itself Santa Monicans for Safe Access have filed papers have established a campaign committee in support of the initiative and have already raised $20,000 for their effort, according to financial disclosure forms.

The filing shows that three individuals from outside Santa Monica have contributed to the committee's effort.

Anahit Muradyan from Reseda, who is the committee's reported treasurer, contributed $10,000 to the group. 

In addition, Juan Jose Chavez from North Hollywood and Franco Serge Brunetti from Los Angeles each contributed $5,000 to the campaign.

The group is represented by attorney David Welch, who specializes in medical marijuana cases.

Phone calls to Welch's law firm by the Lookout were not returned.

Councilmember Bob Holbrook, who opposes dispensaries in Santa Monica, sees the initiative as a way to wrest control of the issue from the Council.
“Like the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association-backed airport initiative, it’s an outside effort to take away control of medical marijuana from the City Council,” Holbrook told the Lookout, referring to a pro-airport measure on November's ballot.

According to documents submitted to the City Clerk’s Office, the proposed measure would amend the City’s Municipal Code to allow for two dispensaries, set a tax of around 4 percent ($40 for every $1,000 of total receipts) for medical marijuana related businesses and bar dispensaries within 650 feet of a school and 500 feet of a public facility.

The measure would also require mandatory background checks for managers of the dispensaries, which would be closed from 10 p.m. to 10 a.m. and monitored around the clock by closed circuit television. The proposed initiative also would ban other medicinal collective activities of five or more persons.

According to medical marijuana law experts, one of the number of drawbacks to the initiative is the limiting and banning of collective activity, which allows patients who use medical marijuana to join with others to grow and use their own medical marijuana without fear of prosecution.  This is also known as “collective activity.”

“Most people don’t have the skill set, space or time to cultivate by themselves,” said Michael Chirnis, a Santa Monica attorney who specializes in California medical marijuana laws.  “Most people go to dispensaries to engage in collective activity. 

“So what this initiative is saying is that in Santa Monica, you can either use medical marijuana alone, at a dispensary or with three other people.”

California Proposition 215, which gained voter approval in 1996 by 55 percent and was the first medical marijuana ballot initiative passed at the state level, allows patients and primary caregivers, with a valid doctor's recommendation, to possess and cultivate marijuana for personal medical use. 

In addition, California Senate Bill 420, which passed the legislature and was signed into law by Governor Gray Davis in 2003, recognized the right of patients and caregivers to associate collectively or cooperatively to cultivate medical marijuana.

The group behind the Santa Monica initiative appears to have no connection to a similarly named group (Santa Monicans for Safe Access or SAMOSA) which was established in 2006 in a successful effort to bring the Lowest Law Enforcement Priority Policy to Santa Monica. The policy made adult, personal marijuana use the lowest law enforcement priority for the City’s Police Department.

In May, SAMOSA sent a letter to City Council members and Commissioners opposing the petition drive. It criticized the measure's provisions setting a dispensary distance from schools, the lack of a Conditional Use Permit and lack of strict Operating Requirements.

The initiative was filed with the City Clerk’s office in May 21, with the purpose of having “medicinal collectives operate with reasonable regulation that mirror those put forward by the League of California Cities and California Police Chiefs Association." (“Medical Marijuana Proponents File for an Initiative,” May 22, 2014)

Proponents of the initiative have until November to collect signatures from 15 percent of registered Santa Monica voters. If those signatures are collected and validated, it will go to a vote either in a special election or in a regularly scheduled election next year.

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