If you thought Pasadena’s cannabis situation couldn’t get any crazier, you were wrong.

In an unusual development, most of the City Council and Mayor Terry Tornek have filed a lawsuit against City Clerk Mark Jomsky and Los Angeles County Registrar of Voters Dennis Logan to get a cannabis initiative removed from the March 3 ballot which would allow previously deemed nuisance operators to do business as usual with impunity.

According to City Attorney Michele Beal Bagneris, neither Jomsky nor Logan are the true targets of the lawsuit.

“The city clerk and the county registrar of voters are not accused of any wrongdoing and are named in the lawsuit only as a technical procedural matter,” Bagneris said, adding, “any ruling from the court ordering the initiative to be removed from the ballot would have to be directed towards them. The proponents of the initiative, who are being sued as the real parties of interest, are the parties who will have to defend the validity of the initiative.”

As city clerk, Jomsky is responsible for forwarding ballot information to the country registrar, who oversees the county’s election process.

According to the lawsuit, the real parties of interest are George Bernales, Susan Gomez and Alan Jay, the trio listed as the proponents of the ballot measure, which is called the “Initiative to Allow Operation of Cannabis Businesses That Previously Operated Illegally, In Violation of the Pasadena Municipal Code.”

The initiative allows any cannabis operator that operated in 2018 without being criminally convicted to operate without obtaining a permit from the city.

However, according to the lawsuit, initiatives can only be legislative by nature and the city’s permit process is an administrative process, making the initiative unconstitutional.

“By effectively compelling the issuance of an operating permit to the non-complying cannabis dispensaries and granting them exemptions from the conditional use restrictions set forth in the city’s zoning laws regarding the permissible locations for such businesses, the initiative purports to mandate administrative or adjudicative actions that would normally be performed by city staff and its Planning Commission, and it is thus beyond the electorate’s legislative power of initiative,” the lawsuit states.

Last year, the City Council banned so-called nuisance dispensaries from applying for business licenses under the city’s cannabis law. Voters passed Measure CC, the city’s highly regulated process which allows only one dispensary to operate in each council district, and mandates that dispensaries must adhere to strict distance limits from schools, libraries and churches.

However, the city’s own process has become murky. Several dispensaries that were denied conditional use permits have filed lawsuits against the city. City Manager Steve Mermell has proposed the city’s ordinance be amended to allow three dispensaries in each district, but the changes do not allow for more than six dispensaries in the city.

But if the citizens’ initiative passes at the ballot box, an additional 18 cannabis retailers would be allowed to legally operate in Pasadena, and at locations other than those approved by the voters when Measure CC was passed. According to the lawsuit, 18 businesses would benefit if the law passes. 

Rose Buds, Benjamin’s 30, 419 Collective, Pasadena Medical, NuRemedy, Church of Walnut, Good Life, M.V. Health Solutions, Golden State, Flavortown, Green Love, Bloom Pasadena, Revo, Green Star Dispensary, Urban Farms, Pasadena Cannabis, Undefeated 25 and House of CBD have been previously cited by the city for operating illegal cannabis dispensaries. Fourteen have been shut down, while four continue to operate illegally. Operators at three of those businesses have been charged criminally, but have not been convicted.

If the initiative passes, they could not be shut down even if they become a public nuisance, according to the initiative.

“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 Dec. 31, 2024,” according to 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. Owners of non-offending commercial cannabis businesses operating without a permit pursuant to this subdivision may apply for a commercial cannabis permit from the city of Pasadena at any time. After Dec. 31, 2024, all commercial cannabis businesses may operate only after such businesses apply for and receive a commercial cannabis permit pursuant to this Chapter.”