Cannabis Advocates Force Yucca Council To Put Issue On Ballot

YUCCA VALLEY —(December 23) Advocates for the availability of medical marijuana in the town of Yucca Valley have effectively overrun the town council’s procedural blockade of local marijuana clinics by getting the requisite number of voter signatures on a petition to direct the town council to adopt a new code allowing dispensaries or otherwise put the matter to the ballot.
An initiative calling for the town to allow two marijuana dispensaries to operate in the 20,700 population municipality was signed by more than 1,900 of the town’s registered voters. Of those signatures, 1,873 signatures were determined by the San Bernardino County Register of Voters Office to be valid, and that number of signatures was roughly 400 more than was needed by the petitioners to force the town council to act.
Town Clerk Lesley Copeland said she is now purposed to put the petition before the town council for certification at its next meeting on Jan. 20, 2015.
Unless the council can cite some reason for not certifying the petition – and there does not appear to be any such legal grounds available to the council – it must either adopt the initiative language calling for the granting of two dispensary permits into the town code without changes within 10 days or call for a report on how the new rules would affect the town or schedule a special election in which voters would be given a straight up-or-down vote on whether to approve the initiative.
The Alliance for Safe Access of Yucca Valley, led by Jason Elsasser, began circulating the petition this summer. The petition calls for the city to permit the opening and operation of one medical marijuana clinic per 10,000 residents living in the town under a set of rules governing hours when the dispensaries can be operated and within zones outside the proximity of churches and schools.
Elsasser and the Alliance undertook their effort after the closure of another clinic, which had gotten its operating charter from the city by applying for a business license as an ‘herbal shop.”
Upon town officials learning that the enterprise was a dispensary, they initiated efforts to close it but were met by the owner’s threat of litigation. The town and the clinic owner arrived at an agreement by which the owner was able to remain in business for a specified period. Before that deadline elapsed, the operation proved lucrative enough for the owner to reach his financial goals and he voluntarily closed.
Advocates for the availability of medical marijuana say that there is considerable demand for medical marijuana in Yucca Valley and that the town council, by its efforts to prevent the operation of dispensaries in town is forcing customers to purchase the product from criminals selling it illegally or travel to other cities where clinics are permitted and where those municipalities have tapped into the tax revenue available from the sales.
The demand for marijuana will remain whether the town facilitates local availability or not, and the city should take advantage of the potential tax revenue such operations present, advocates of the dispensaries say.
Those opposed to the cannabis clubs say those favoring them are a minority and a referendum will end with the ban on them being sustained.
Town officials were left calculating the prospect for approval if a referendum is held. The council, which has earlier displayed its opposition to allowing the clinics to operate, is conscious of the $30,000 to $40,000 cost of holding the election. Requiring an election would merely cost the town money if a majority of the voters support the ballot measure. Thus, simply adopting the initiative language might be attractive to some of the council members. Spending the money to hold the election makes sense, from their standpoint, only if the voters reject the initiative. Seeking a report would potentially delay the matter.
California Cannabis Coalition Director Randy Welty, who in addition to owning and operating marijuana clinics also owns adult businesses in several locations in and outside San Bernardino County, may have changed the complexion of the council’s decision. He has offered to have the California Cannabis Coalition foot the bill for the election if the council decides to go that route.

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