"From the Earth has approximately 3,000 people from Costa Mesa who visit our location," says Kintu Patel, the Santa Ana dispensary's owner and a leading figure behind Measure W, one of Costa Mesa's three medical marijuana measures. "This proves that the residents of Costa Mesa want storefronts in the city. I see it every day."
With the election less than a handful of days away, Patel is keeping busy. In this election cycle alone, Patel has helped put medical marijuana measures on ballots in four cities across Southern California: Long Beach, Perris, Laguna Beach and Costa Mesa. His interest in all of this, he explains, is to make quality medicine safely available to patients. "I see families all day that need medication, and some of them have to travel an hour to get to my location in Santa Ana," he says. "To have medical cannabis available in all these cities would be a great service to the public."
But the city causing perhaps the biggest headache of them all is Costa Mesa. This Tuesday, Costa Mesa residents can vote on three medical marijuana measures: V, W and X. In reality, however, Measure V is a no-go. Rob Taft, the author of Measure V, and his team abandoned the campaign and now support Measure X. "It seems to me that putting up a competing measure that bears a lot of similarities with Measure W and then abandoning it would only take votes away and confuse voters," says Alex Avetoom, the Measure W media advisor. "When you're in the trenches, like we are, we deal with this every day, so we know the players and the way everything sort of shakes out…It just seems like electioneering to me."
Taft explains that as soon as the Medical Cannabis Regulation Safety Act (MCRSA) came about, he knew Measure V wouldn't stand a chance. "I couldn't even deny that my measure was going to get caught up in lawsuits on day one if it passed," he says. "That's why I got behind Measure X. At the end of the day, it's not about my measure winning—it's what works best for the people and for the city."
Meanwhile, Measure X doesn't permit dispensaries, whereas Measure W allows up to four storefronts to operate within Costa Mesa and permits these medical cannabis businesses to engage in cultivation, distribution and the transfer of medical marijuana. They'd also have to operate under strict zoning requirements, such as not being within 1,000 feet of any schools or other dispensaries and having to be at least 600 feet away from public parks, libraries or daycare facilities.
"It's really a binary thing in Costa Mesa now," says Avetoom. "It's an either/or situation. We’re either going to have medical marijuana available in Costa Mesa, in which case Measure W passes, or we are not and it's going to remain an outright ban."
For Patel and his team, Measure W is designed to help people like Mieko Hester-Perez and her autistic son, Joey who was given six months to live back in 2009. He went through a miraculous transformation as a result of cannabis, making safe access to quality cannabis crucial. After witnessing the power of cannabis, Hester-Perez has since become a scientific advisor for Cannabis Science, a board member of the NORML Women's Alliance and is an international advocate for special needs families who have chosen cannabis as a treatment option.
"Banning collectives in the city would basically do a disservice to the families who need it here in Costa Mesa," she says. "With my family's dynamic, we don’t have the luxury of driving outside of the city with a special needs child. I'm not sure if banning collectives in Costa Mesa is well thought out, considering there's a need for this treatment option in the city."
Although Measure X has language that theoretically leaves the future open for dispensaries in Costa Mesa, Patel isn't convinced the city's notoriously anti-cannabis city council is going to follow through on that. In the past, Patel recalls city council members saying that people who need marijuana could go to Santa Ana for their medicine, implying that there's no need for storefronts in the Costa Mesa. "For [the council] to say they're going to allow dispensaries later on just doesn't make sense," he says "I don't believe it'll happen."
Measure W will become law if more than 50 percent of Costa Mesa voters pick it, and if it gets the most overall votes of the city's measures. And it's stories like Joey's that have inspired Patel and his team to work so hard to get Measure W passed. "Giving patients access to safe medicine is the most important thing to me," says Patel. "I've seen the industry evolve a lot over the last six years, and I want to see those good things keep happening."