Measure M Is the Most Important L.A. Ballot Initiative You Haven't Heard of

An image from the High Times Cannabis Cup in 2015
An image from the High Times Cannabis Cup in 2015
Timothy Norris/L.A. Weekly

There's a very important measure pertaining to marijuana legalization on the March 7 city ballot, but you might not be familiar with it. The election season instead has been dominated by Measure S, which if approved would curb most major development in Los Angeles for two years. That initiative has attracted such heat that each of its opposing camps is accusing the other of being Trumplike.

Meanwhile, Measure M, which would allow the City Council to fully legalize medical pot shops in L.A. and would clear the way for recreational weed retailers in the city next year, is getting nowhere near that kind of attention — and Election Day is less than a month away.

Measure M — also known as the Cannabis Activity Permits and Regulation Initiative Ordinance — was placed on the ballot by the City Council to thwart a competing initiative, Measure N, which also would require that City Hall finally issue pot-store permits. Backers of Measure N wisely abandoned it in favor of Measure M, spearheaded by council president Herb Wesson.

Starting Jan. 1, 2018, both local and state permits will be required for California weed retailers under the Medical Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act (MCRSA) signed in 2015 by Gov. Jerry Brown. Los Angeles currently doesn't issue pot permits; it just looks the other way when it comes to the 135 or so medical dispensaries granted "limited legal immunity" under voter-approved Proposition D.

Measure M would give the city power to establish a permitting program for those 135; to increase that number; to permit recreational shops (which will be allowed under state law starting Jan. 1); to issue cultivation, manufacturing and other permits; to authorize fines for noncompliance; and to tax weed businesses. The measure doesn't mention delivery services, which are outlawed under Proposition D, but it does give the council broad power to "issue permits for cannabis activity."

There have been no TV, radio or billboard ads for Measure M. Proponents say they're relying on direct mail as well as fliers and posters inside pot shops to get the word out.

The question is, in an election that could draw as little as 15 percent of registered voters in the city, is that enough?

"Our campaign has been grassroots," says Virgil Grant, co-founder of the Southern California Coalition, a group of dispensaries throwing its weight behind Measure M. "We're reaching out to the minority communities that normally don't go out and vote for this kind of thing."

Grant's organization supports expanding the number of cannabis shops in the city — a goal that some neighborhood groups don't share. Those groups are concerned about a proliferation of pot shops along their streets.

"I absolutely know firsthand that it's a bad thing for the community, especially our young people," Margarita "Mago" Amador, a member of the Boyle Heights Neighborhood Council, told L.A. Weekly last year.

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Support for Measure M could be further compromised by the presence on the same ballot of anti-development initiative Measure S. Measure S is backed by the not-in-my-backyard (NIMBY) crowd; its opponents, on the other hand, want to see more housing built to help offset L.A.'s housing shortage.

The NIMBY crowd was up in arms over the explosion of local marijuana retailers in the late ’00s. So if NIMBYs turn out in large numbers to support Measure S, then Measure M might need all the help it can get.

In defense of Measure M, the Southern California Coalition argues that it's the best solution for keeping pot shops in check, because it will create oversight for legal retailers while shutting down illicit ones.

Veteran political operative Harvey Englander, of government-relations consulting firm Englander Knabe & Allen, is helping another coalition of pot shops, the United Cannabis Business Alliance, voice its concerns at City Hall. The group spearheaded the abandoned Measure N; it now backs Measure M.

Englander says he isn't too worried about the tepid enthusiasm behind Measure M. "It's real quiet out there," he says. "That's typical in a city election. We don't have a lot on the ballot generating a lot of excitement.

"Support for laws regulating marijuana are popular," Englander adds. "There's support for this."


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