Santee leaders have given initial approval to legalizing cannabis shops, a potentially major change for a city that long resisted the industry.
Council members voted 3-2 late last month to allow up to four businesses through a process that at least temporarily sidesteps the need for voter approval.
Officials will need to vote on the ordinance again before it takes effect.
“It’s not our job as a council to decide morality,” Councilmember Dustin Trotter said during the July 27 public meeting. But he and other proponents said the measure would simultaneously keep the product from kids and bring in new revenue, while making it easier to crack down on illegal sales.
“We were gonna protect the citizens of Santee at all costs,” Trotter added.
Mayor John Minto and Vice Mayor Ronn Hall opposed the ordinance.
“What’s the big rush?” Hall asked. The council seemed too focused on money while ignoring potential dangers, such as the drug’s possible ties to schizophrenia, he said.
Plus, he reminded colleagues that marijuana remained illegal at the federal level.
Minto and Hall did vote for a Mitigated Negative Declaration and a Mitigation Monitoring and Reporting Program, two procedural measures that needed approval before the ordinance could be considered.
Many residents have publicly opposed cannabis in recent months, citing risks to children and the possibility of impaired drivers, though two of the three people who spoke during public comment in July favored legalization.
The measure, listed as “Ordinance B” in the meeting’s agenda, would keep shops at least 900 feet away from certain places, such as schools, parks and childcare centers.
Other details still need to be worked out, such as what fees businesses may pay. The city will enter into what’s known as a Community Benefit Agreement with owners, giving officials more flexibility to revise the rules over time.
A formal tax would require more work.
The council would need four votes to put a proposal on the ballot, meaning the mayor or vice mayor would have to drop at least some of their opposition. Voters would then have ultimate say.
The council is scheduled to vote on the ordinance again Aug. 10.
The deadline to get a tax measure on the November ballot is the same day, but Santee officials have said they want to spend more time working with businesses directly before voters set rules that would be hard to adjust.
There are already cannabis businesses in La Mesa, and Lemon Grove continues to expand access. Shops remain illegal in El Cajon, although businesses operating just outside city limits may have El Cajon addresses.