Voters to decide Susanville’s commercial cannabis question

Here’s the question voters in the city of Susanville will answer come November.

Now it’s official. At its Wednesday, Aug. 3 meeting, the Susanville City Council adopted Resolution No. 22-6027, putting the cannabis issue on the Nov. 8 General Election ballot for the voters to decide.

On May 4, the council approved Resolution No. 22-1033, a city ordinance allowing commercial cannabis activities within the city limits — distribution (including as many as three dispensaries), manufacturing and testing — despite strong opposition from a roomful of city residents who wanted the council to put the issue on the ballot to let the city residents make the call. If realized, the council’s vision could make Susanville a major player in the cannabis industry with three dispensaries within the city limits, indoor grows in warehouses, testing facilities and distribution centers moving the cannabis product to legal dispensaries up and down the state. Supporters said Susanville could become a major cannabis distribution hub and the city would benefit greatly from the tax revenue those activities generate. Detractors said the council is condoning drug use, setting a terrible example for local youth and selling the community’s culture and soul in order to collect a little drug money.

In response the council’s passage of the cannabis ordinance, city residents circulated a petition opposing that decision, and on July 6 the council acknowledged the ordinance’s opposition had collected enough signatures to force the council to either repeal the ordinance or put it on the ballot for the voters to decide.

According to the staff report, the voters will be asked a simple yes or no question on the November  ballot — “Shall the measure amending the city of Susanville’s Municipal Code to establish regulations governing commercial cannabis activities in the city of Susanville be adopted?”

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As one might expect, the controversial issue remains unresolved and continued to boil at the council’s Aug. 3 meeting.

Leanne Vanderly, one of the opposition’s organizers, complained the ballot language is too vague.

“Is the general public going to know what that says?” she asked. “Can you be more clear, specifically? When I read my ballot, I want to know what I’m voting for, right? … Whatever you can do to help the people know what they’re voting for or against, that would be beneficial.”

City Administrator Dan Newton said that was the name of the adopted ordinance. He said the ordinance has been published and is available to anyone who wants to “read the actual ordinance.”

Councilmember Mendy Schuster suggested additional language be included on the question — “including commercial cannabis cultivation, testing, manufacturing, distribution, retail facilities, microbusinesses and delivery …. ”

Councilmember Russ Brown agreed there should be more information on the ballot.

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“If we’re not going to repeal it, the public needs to be more informed about what they are actually voting on — a better description of what it is,” Brown said.

“I personally think this is pretty straight forward,” said Councilmember Kevin Stafford. “I mean you either want cannabis in the Susanville city limits or you don’t. The more you add to it the more you’re going to confuse the voters.”

Councilmember Thomas Herrera said more than 100 residents “reached out” and told him when those opposing the cannabis ordinance were collecting signatures there was no mention of repealing the ordinance.

“Every single door that was knocked on, to my knowledge was, ‘We want this on the ballot.’ There was never a mention of repeal. So to stay true to what people went door to door saying … So it doesn’t matter what it says on the paper, it doesn’t matter what’s up there, that’s what the residents were told. That is what they signed. That’s the information they were given at the time when people were going door to door … There were several meetings here where the whole room was filled and every person wanted it on the ballot, so in my opinion, that’s what we should do. That’s what they asked for and now that they have the upper hand I think there’s some intent to dispose of it permanently … which is not what was originally requested. This is very straight forward and to the point, and so I would say the only thing I do agree with is to add the resolution number … Many opinions of what people said to me is they’re tired of hearing about it, we’re tired of Facebook posts, we’re tired of the media talking about it, we just want a yes or no — is it going to happen or is it not. And so I think that seems fair to the voters.”

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Schuster said she thought the council should include more information on the ballot because voters may not know what’s in the ordinance and asked if the 100 people Herrera had referenced knew “everything that was in the ordinance.”

“They majority of them had expressed when people went to the front door, what they said was actually a contradiction of what the actual ordinance said itself,” Herrera said. “So yes, I would say a good majority of people have read the ordinance and were aware of what we were trying to do.”

Schuster said the since the council has already approved the ordinance, the city is not just asking the voters yes or no.

“You already know you have a whole ordinance written that includes all kinds of thing,” Schuster said, “so I think it would be more transparent to list everything it’s going to include along with the ordinance number. I think that’s fair to the public … We have a thousand people against it, and I think we need to be respectful and list everything for them.”

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McCourt said allegedly some of the people collecting signatures against the ordinance may have provided possible misinformation but that allegation is based upon hearsay.

McCourt elaborated on hearsay. “It really is our civic duty to research on our own to the extent to which we desire education on anything we are going to cast a vote on, and that’s a pretty standard practice, and so yes, I also, Mr. Herrera, had people come up and say they were under the impression it was just to vote on it, they didn’t know it was already legal and that’s OK. That was their responsibility to further dig into the facts. Ideally everybody would have shared, and hopefully they did, truth and not so much hearsay.”

McCourt pushed the idea of a community workshop to educate the public.

“It always seems like a good opportunity for us as the city to go out of our way to further educate,” McCourt said about his workshop proposal. “But the idea is we are going out of our way to make everything transparent. Literally two weeks ago one of the people requesting signatures told me if this passes we’re going to have bulldozers everywhere and chemicals and outdoor grows and that’s nothing like” what’s in the ordinance.

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McCourt asked if it would be OK for the council to host a couple of educational workshops before the November election. Newtown said city employees should not be involved in electioneering activities, but City Attorney Margaret Long said public workshops would be permitted as long as they were educational.

“That might be something to consider,” McCourt said. “If there’s anybody with curiosity, we definitely want to make the effort so that everyone understands what they’re voting on.”

Long also advised since the ballot measure is based upon a referendum, the language must be precise in order to meet specific legal requirements. She said the voter’s guide will include a summary of the item written by the city attorney.

Schuster pressed for more information on the ballot, and Stafford responded, “Every person should educate themselves when they vote. We vote for president and everybody else, so you need to educate yourself … You can’t hold everybody’s hand all the time … and like Dan said if one thing gets out there that isn’t right, we’re in trouble.”

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Based on the recommendations by the city administrator and the city attorney, Herrera moved the resolution be approved for the ballot as written. Stafford offered a second.

McCourt called for a roll-call vote on submitting the matter as written. McCourt, Herrera and Stafford voted aye, and Schuster and Brown voted nay.