Redondo Beach voters will decide next year whether to legalize commercial cannabis in the city.
The City Council this week chose to place an initiative on the March 7, 2023, general election ballot that, if approved, would allow a few marijuana dispensaries in the seaside town, repealing the existing ban on cannabis.
This all came about because of an initiative petition.
A petitioner, resident Sam Nicosia – who was solicited by growing dispensary chain Catalyst Cannabis Co., headquartered in Long Beach – served Redondo with an initiative petition last year that sought to get the city to repeal its ban on cannabis and allow up to three dispensaries around town.
The Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder verified more than 6,600 signatures last month; the petition needed signatures from 10% of the city’s nearly 48,000 registered voters — or about 4,800 — for the issue to go before the council.
Under the ordinance, the City Council would also have the discretion to legalize other cannabis uses and impose operational, design and location requirements on marijuana businesses.
Adding the cannabis measure to next year’s general election ballot will cost Redondo Beach $5,000 to $10,000.
The council could have also enacted the petitioner’s ordinance as written or called for a special election aligned with this year’s statewide primary on June 7.
Catalyst’s co-founders, Elliot Lewis and Damian Martin — the latter is also the company’s attorney — offered this week to pay the $244,000 price to put the issue on the state ballot, getting the choice to voters as soon as possible.
“We are disappointed that the city council has pushed the will of the voters off for 14 months or so,” Lewis said via email Wednesday.
Lewis said he considers the council’s Tuesday night, Feb.1, decision a loss in terms of business opportunity. But, Lewis added, he is confident that over time, his initiative will be a win for the industry and Redondo residents.
“No matter how it happens, retail cannabis is coming to Redondo Beach,” Lewis said, “and we believe that Catalyst (was) the catalyst for positive change.”
Though recreational marijuana is legal in California, cities initially had the option to ban sales within their borders.
And that’s what the South Bay beach cities did.
Redondo, for example, banned commercial cannabis operations in 2017, including recreational dispensaries, manufacturing and delivery services, excluding medical deliveries.
But if Redondo Beach ultimately does allow the retail cannabis dispensaries, there is a long-term gain.
Each licensed site in the beach town could provide $500,000 to $1 million in additional revenue, according to an initial staff estimate.
An upcoming cannabis ordinance from the city itself, however, could precede the initiative.
Last month, the council directed Community Development Director Brandy Forbes to draft an ordinance based on marijuana regulation recommendations from the city’s cannabis steering committee, City Attorney Mike Webb said by phone Wednesday. Staff has a July 1 deadline to bring the draft ordinance to council for review, he added.
The city’s ordinance, according to a staff report, would allow two cannabis retailers in town, impose a 5% tax on cannabis sales and set up a 1,500-foot buffer zone from schools.
If the council passes its own ordinance, Webb said, the initiative proponents could withdraw the ballot item within 88 days of the 2023 election. But if the initiative stays on the ballot and voters approve it, he added, it would prevail over the city’s law and could only be changed by another vote of the people.
Lewis may consider withdrawing the initiative if the city passes its own that aligns closely with his, he said.
It would take longer to modify an initiative ordinance through another election after adopting it, Webb said, while the council could quickly revise a city-written rule.
Nearly simultaneous efforts, meanwhile, are underway in El Segundo, Hermosa Beach and Manhattan Beach to either persuade the respective city councils to open the door to cannabis dispensaries or send the issue to voters. The efforts, all essentially led by Catalyst, are in various stages of the initiative process—and each city has reacted differently.
Hermosa Beach formed a cannabis advisory group in January to help guide the city’s decision. That city, along with Manhattan Beach, may signatures returned later this winter or in early spring. El Segundo expects to consider its options by March.
Staff writer Lisa Jacobs contributed to this report.