A federal judge denied a group of Long Beach medical marijuana petitioners’ claims against the city today (Monday) that would have set the stage for a public vote on the issue next year.

Judge Audrey Collins denied the efforts of Long Beach Citizens’ and Patients’ Rights PAC, which was trying to put a medical marijuana regulation law on the ballot in a special Long Beach election.

“We believe that the judge has made a number of legal errors and we intend to appeal,” said Guatum Dutta, attorney for the PAC.

Petitioners had gathered 43,000 signatures for a vote on a law similar to that drafted a few years ago by the City Attorney and initially passed by the Long Beach City Council. City laws require 15% of the 251,000 valid voters for a special election or 10% for the next general election.

“They framed their argument as a denial of due process and free speech under the First Amendment,” said Barry Myers, senior deputy city attorney in litigation, adding his team saw the case as local election law. “Federal courts do not like to intervene into state cases unless actions or legislatures is particularly egregious.”

Part of that due process argument was based on 18 signatures that were ruled not permissible by the City Clerk’s Office. The City Clerk only has to check a 3% sampling to begin the process.

Dutta said that 11 of those signatures were ruled invalid because the signees moved within Long Beach during the process, and that seven more were admitted errors by the City Clerk’s office (wrong name or address looked up, for example).

The other issue argued was 15% versus 10%. Dutta said his team believes that regardless of language in the initiative, if it gets 10% it should move forward — the petitioners got between 14% and 15%. The city says its hands are tied.

“Unfortunately it doesn’t (have the right to change to 10%),” Myers said. “It was limited to the structure of the initiative as dictated by the election law. They can’t morph it into a general election initiative.”

By the end of Tuesday, it is possible the hearing will be moot. Second District Councilwoman Suja Lowenthal, Eighth District Councilman Al Austin and Ninth District Councilman Steven Neal have requested updates on medical marijuana stances by both the state and federal agencies, and as a part of the agenda item, they are requesting the City Attorney look at drafting an initiative similar to what the PAC has been fighting for.

“There appears to be overwhelming support for regulation of medical marijuana going on the ballot,” Lowenthal said in a statement. “We believe the city needs to be part of that discussion.”

Lowenthal and her co-sponsors cited the likelihood of a petition eventually qualifying that may force the issue back to court anyway — and her staff said Monday the ruling would not alter the agenda item.

“Expecting patients with painful conditions to get their medical marijuana prescription through drug dealers in back alleys is not the solution,” Lowenthal said. “Whether through the electoral ballot, legislation or court system, Long Beach needs the same authority as other cities and states to regulate this substance in plain public view for the benefit of patients and safety of our residents and businesses.”

Dutta said the city can expect a continued fight from the petitioners.

“We like our chances on appeal because we think this was wrongly decided and we think the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals will see that differently,” he said.

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