Local Strip Club Owner Championing Medical Marijuana Initiative In Upland

UPLAND—(January 14)  The tandem of Craig Beresh and Randy Welty have turned a second corner in their crusade to break the resistance of the political leaders of various communities in San Bernardino County to permitting marijuana clinics to operate within their respective jurisdictions’ borders.
Beresh is the president of the California Cannabis Coalition. Welty is a board member of that coalition. In October they undertook a petition drive in Upland to gather enough signatures to force a special election asking the city’s voters to overturn the city’s ban on marijuana dispensaries. They completed that drive earlier this week and presented the petitions to the city clerk’s office on Wednesday.
That accomplishment in Upland replicates the pair’s drive in the town of Yucca Valley initiated this summer and concluded in December.
In both Yucca Valley and in Upland, the elected leadership has been opposed to allowing medical marijuana clinics to proliferate.
In Yucca Valley, town officials had taken a hard line against making the drug legally available under the auspices of Proposition 215, which was passed by California’s voters in 1996, making medical marijuana availability legal. Despite the town hierarchy’s opposition, an enterprising entrepreneur had gotten an operating charter for a clinic from the city by lying beneath official’s radar and applying for a business license as a “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. Last summer, the Alliance for Safe Access of Yucca Valley, led by Jason Elsasser, with assistance from the California Cannabis Coalition, Beresh and Welty, began circulating a petition in September that called for the town to permit the opening and operation of one medical marijuana clinic per 10,000 residents living in the 20,700 population town under a set of rules governing hours when the dispensaries can be operated and within zones outside the proximity of churches and schools. By December, advocates had obtained more than 1,900 signatures of the town’s 9,945 registered voters on those petitions, of which 1,873 were determined by the San Bernardino County Register of Voters Office to be valid, roughly 400 more than was needed by the petitioners to force the town council to either adopt the initiative language calling for the granting of two dispensary permits or otherwise undertake the scheduling of a special election in which voters would be given a straight up-or-down vote on whether to approve the initiative.
In Upland, the city, led by former city councilman Ken Willis, sought to prohibit such operations by restrictive zoning codes. Nevertheless, a number of determined clinic proprietors braved the city’s prohibition, setting up shops that were so lucrative in the short run their owners could afford the cost of being shut down after anywhere from two weeks to four months of operation. Upon being provided with an abatement notice, most clinic operators would close out their operations at the cited address and reopen in another location, repeating the two week-to-four-month cycle again. One clinic operation, G3 Holistics, took a different approach, resisting the city’s efforts to shut it down by challenging the city’s action in state court, reaping a series of mixed rulings that allowed the clinic to remain open, even in the face of one ruling sustaining the city, which was immediately appealed. The city spent over $400,000 in legal fees in seeking to shutter G3 Holistics. Ultimately, G3 was put out of business, though that outcome was not effectuated by the city. Rather it was the federal government’s criminal prosecution of G3 Holistic’s owner, Aaron Sandusky, that forced it into closure.
At present, there are more than a dozen marijuana clinics doing business in the city.
In running their petition drive, Beresh and Welty, appealed to those genuinely wanting medical marijuana to be available, as well as those alarmed at the proliferation of the large number of clinics currently in the city. They obtained 6,865 signatures endorsing their petition, which calls for the permitting of three clinics in a relatively limited portion of the city’s the west side between Foothill Boulevard to the south, Cable Airport to the north, Airport Drive to the east and Monte Vista to the west.
On January 12, both Beresh and Welty addressed the Upland City Council.
Beresh said that by qualifying the initiative for the ballot, Upland residents have said “We have a right to put into our bodies what we want. I would remind the city council this is a human right, the right to medicate and take care of yourself.”
Conveying that he believed the city will continue to resist the marijuana availability movement that is afoot, Beresh said, “We are about to make a loud noise. Take the time to think about what you are doing.”
More so than Beresh, Welty’s reputation in Upland proceeded him. The owner of the Tropical Lei nude dancing venue and other properties in the same portion of Upland where the zoning for marijuana clinics is proposed in the initiative, Welty is the owner/operator of the Hawaii Theatre in the city of Industry, Eye Candy Showgirls Theater in Chula Vista, three Spearmint Rhino bars, several adult bookstores and was the owner of the Flesh Club on Hospitality Lane in San Bernardino before it was shut down amid charges of being a venue for prostitution activity. He also has an interest in at least 63 medical marijuana dispensaries. Undeterred by accusations that he has shrewdly profited by engaging in operations traditionally considered to involve vice activity, Welty said that as a Vietnam Veteran, he and the rest of the California Cannabis Coalition were “looking forward to working with the city on this. We have at this time a black market in Upland that is costing the city hundreds of thousands of dollars. Lawyers working on an injunction while the black market is here is absolutely absurd. Medical marijuana is a land use issue.”
The council, Welty said, should take stock of “What the people here in Upland believe. They don’t think you have the right to tell them what to take. You are not doctors. They do not trust your medical judgment. Let’s save the city some money and put money in city coffers.”
The city is hopelessly behind the times, Welty said. Medical marijuana is already legal he said, and the city has failed to recognize that reality. And the time is fast approaching when it will be legalized for personal use by all adults, he said. “It will become legal as a recreational drug in 2016,” he predicted.
At issue is whether the special election Beresh and Welty have requested will be scheduled this year or consolidated with the municipal election to be held in 2016.
Beresh and Welty maintain their petition contains language which would require the city to hold the election this year at a cost of more than $80,000. The city maintains the coalition failed to request a special election at the time it initiated the petition drive in October, allowing the city to hold off on the balloting until a regular municipal election is held.

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