County supervisors directed staff Tuesday to report back on what it will cost to hold an election on the legalization of medical marijuana in San Benito County. County election officials must respond to a move by Purple Cross Rx Dispensary to legalize and tax medical marijuana by placing an initiative before county voters in 2014.

“The Elections Office has received two Notices of Intent to circulate a petition to tax and legalize medical marijuana,” said San Benito County Clerk Joe Paul Gonzalez.

The petitions would allow the regulation and zoning of medical marijuana dispensaries, void the current moratorium on new dispensaries in the county, limit the number of dispensaries and amend zoning to legalize the sale of marijuana. Purple Cross Owner Scott McPhail has been at odds with city and county officials since he opened his shop 2009, facing several attempts to close down the store and move him out of the county.

When reached by phone Tuesday, an employee at Purple Cross asked that a reporter call back later. “We’re really busy right now,” he said. McPhail was unavailable for comment when tried to reach again.

Supporters of the initiative will have to collect 1,642 verified signatures of county residents before he can place an initiative on the ballot by December 30, 2013, according to Gonzalez.

Initiatives are costly to counties who must pay for the the work that goes into an election, including verifying petition signatures, printing ballots and staffing the actual vote.

“This costs the county, taxpayers, a lot of money,” Supervisor Anthony Botelho said.

Under the proposed initiative, two-thirds of voters would need to approve the sale and legalization of medical marijuana in the county and a 3% sales tax on its sales, which would go in to the county’s General Fund. Supervisors did not seem impressed, however, with making money on medical marijuana.

“We may as well tax crystal meth and really make a fortune,” Botelho quipped.

Botelho asked if passing such a law would be in conflict with federal law, an issue County Counsel Matt Granger said, may be something to consider.

California’s medical marijuana program was established when state voters approved Proposition 215 (also known as the Compassionate Use Act of 1996) on the November 5, 1996 ballot with a 55% majority. The proposition added Section 11362.5 to the California Health and Safety Code, modifying state law to allow people with cancer, anorexia, AIDS, spasticity, glaucoma, arthritis, migraines or other chronic illnesses the “legal right to obtain or grow, and use marijuana for medical purposes when recommended by a doctor”. The law also mandated that doctors not be punished for recommending the drug, and required that federal and state governments work together “to implement a plan to provide for the safe and affordable distribution of marijuana to all patients in medical need.” Proposition 215 does not affect federal law, which still prohibits the cultivation and possession of marijuana.

The recent history of legalized marijuana in California comprises a number of legislative, legal, and cultural events surrounding use of marijuana, hashish, and cannabis. California was the first state to establish a medical marijuana program, enacted by Proposition 215 in 1996 and Senate Bill 420 in 2003. Prop. 215, also known as the Compassionate Use Act, was approved by initiative with a 55% majority, allowing people with cancer, AIDS and other chronic illnesses the right to grow or obtain marijuana for medical purposes when recommended by a doctor. SB 420, or the Medical Marijuana Protection Act, was signed into law by Governor Gray Davis and established an identification card system for medical marijuana patients. Source:

Supervisors took no formal action on the matter Tuesday except to direct staff to come back on August 6 with a complete analysis and report on the potential impacts of an initiative.