ALos Angeles superior court judge ruled last week that a ballot initiative that would increase the number of allowable cannabis dispensaries in Pasadena from six to three times that many was invalid and blocked it from being placed on the March 3 ballot.

Called “The People’s Initiative to Preserve the Existing Operation of Non -Offending Commercial Cannabis Businesses,” the initiative would have allowed 18 cannabis retailers to operate in the city, some of which had been shut down by Pasadena officials.

In her decision, Judge Mary H. Strobel said that the cannabis initiative “mandates actions that are administrative and adjudicative. Thus, it is an improper exercise of the initiative power.”

The ruling could be the final nail in the coffin for the illegal operators.

The Los Angeles County Registrar’s deadline for printing ballots is Jan. 3, which does not give proponents of the initiative enough time to rewrite the measure and circulate it for qualifying signatures.

Even if the proponents decide to try again for the November election, they would be required to write an entirely new initiative that is within the limits
of the law.

“Today the court saw through the attempts of the illegal cannabis operators to do an end-run around the protections approved by the voters,” said Pasadena  City Manager Steve Mermell. “When voters adopted Measure CC, they wanted limits on not only the locations where cannabis could be sold, but also a cap on the total number of retailers in the city. The illegal operators tried to wholly gut those protections. This win validates the city’s desire to protect the will of our voters, who entrusted us to allow cannabis retailers in but only under very controlled conditions. We will continue to protect the will of the voters.”

According to the state constitution, initiatives must be legislative.

“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 city’s lawsuit against the initiative stated.

Due to the procedural nature of the initiative and their roles in certifying it, the city was forced to list City Clerk Mark Jomsky and LA County Registrar Dean Logan as respondents. However, City Attorney Michele Bagneris announced several weeks ago that neither was the true target of the lawsuit. According to the city’s lawsuit, the real parties of interest are George Bernales, Susan Gomez and Alan Jay, the three people listed as the proponents of
the ballot measure.

Last year, voters passed Measure CC, the city’s highly regulated process which allows only six pot dispensaries, and only one in each of the city’s seven council districts. The measure also requires dispensaries to maintain strict distance limits from schools, libraries, churches and residential neighborhoods. Nearly 200 businesses applied to do business in Pasadena.

After Measure CC passed, the City Council banned so-called “nuisance,”
or non-permitted dispensaries from applying for business licenses under the city’s cannabis law.

In June, The Atrium Group, Harvest of Pasadena, Integral Associates Dena, Tony Fong, Sweetwater Pasadena and MME Pasadena Retail were picked from among 122 applicants vying for permission to sell marijuana in the city.

The initiative did not require the 18 dispensary owners to adhere to provisions of Measure CC, which also led to the measure’s downfall. State
law prohibits businesses from using the initiative process to carve out a
benefit for itself.

“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.”

Local authorities worked for years at shuttering pot shops that did not go through the city’s permit process. At one point, city officials threatened to shut off power and water at sites leased to illegal operators.

Since Measure CC passed, several dispensaries that were not picked to move forward in the city’s approval process have threatened lawsuits through claims filed against the city. A claim for damages is usually the first step in filing a lawsuit against a government agency.

WOW Health and Wellness, which did not make the cut, has accused the city of corrupt actions during the application process, a charge officials have denied. In fact, the city has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars with an outside law firm to investigate those claims, and were cleared of any wrongdoing.

Atrium, which did make the cut, filed a lawsuit when city officials refused to process its applications for a conditional use permit after the Harvest Pasadena turned in a successful application in District 3. Since only one dispensary is allowed in each council district, the city operates on a first come, first served basis and stops processing applications after receiving complete paperwork from a dispensary owner.

In the lawsuit, Atrium claims the city violated the due process rights of
the business.