The City Council recently announced supporters of a measure that would allow marijuana dispensary owners that previously operated illegally to open shops in Pasadena have collected enough signatures to qualify for the March ballot.

Supporters of the People’s Initiative to Preserve the Existing Operation of Non-Offending Commercial Cannabis Businesses are hoping to strike down the city’s 2018 ordinance which bars operators from opening cannabis shops within 600 feet of parks, churches, schools and residential areas. It could also allow an unlimited number of cannabis businesses to operate in town, whereas the city’s present law allows only one such business to operate in each of the city’s seven council districts. The city law only allows six such businesses to operate in the city.

After the signatures were verified by the LA County Registrar of Voters, the city refused to accept the ordinance without alteration, and ordered a study on the impacts of the initiative. The council still has the option to send the ordinance to the voters unaltered.

Organizers could have a tough road ahead as the city’s campaign machine pushes back against the initiative. Measure CC passed, the city’s present marijuana law, with nearly 60 percent of a special election vote in June.

Voter turnout is expected to be higher in the March Super Tuesday election when Californians vote in the presidential primary.

The initiative allows so-called nuisance business owners that city shut down to reopen.

“Non-offending commercial cannabis businesses may continue engaging in commercial cannabis activity within the city of Pasadena without a commercial cannabis permit from the city of Pasadena until December 31, 2024,” states the initiative. “Non-offending commercial cannabis businesses operating without a permit pursuant to this subdivision shall not be deemed, ordered discontinued, modified, or removed as a public nuisance pursuant to the Pasadena Municipal Code based solely on their engagement in commercial cannabis activities permitted by this Chapter.”

The city has long battled so-called nuisance operators that opened storefronts without a business license or a conditional use permit.

When the city began the process of taking its own ordinance to the voters in 2018, officials proclaimed that illegal operators that refused to shut down would not be granted a business license.

More than 100 cannabis operators paid $1.7 million in application fees to vie for conditional use permit (CUP). One operator has already filed a lawsuit with the city after its CUP was turned down due to a restriction that only allows one of six possible cannabis businesses to operate in each of the city’s seven council districts. Only three businesses have received conditional use permits. According to Planning Director David Reyes, there may only be space for three dispensaries due to the distance restrictions imposed by the city’s ordinance.