29 Palms Holds Line Against Pot Shops While Cannabis Advocates Force Vote In Yucca Valley

(February 3) While council members in the desert municipalities of Yucca Valley and Twentynine Palms are both seemingly collectively disinclined toward allowing the establishment of medical marijuana dispensaries within their jurisdictions, advocates of legal access to the drug are making steady headway in the town while the city has maintained its traditional line of prohibition against the substance.
Nearly nineteen years after California’s voters passed Proposition 215 to allow marijuana to be dispensed for medicinal purposes, the town of Yucca Valley and the city of Twentynine Palms, like the vast majority of cities in San Bernardino County, have refused to adjust their zoning codes to permit districts within their borders that would allow marijuana clinics to operate, thus preventing would-be drug sellers the opportunity to operate legally. In Yucca Valley, one enterprising entrepreneur tested fate, the law and the resolve of town officials when he flew in under the radar by using sleight of hand in obtaining a charter from the town to operate an ‘herbal shop.”
Upon town officials learning that the enterprise was a marijuana 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.
Accordingly, the Alliance 4 Safe Access cropped up, led by Jason Elsasser, which gathered petitions calling for the city of 20,700 to place an initiative on the ballot that would allow one dispensary to operate in the city for every 10,000 residents. Elsasser and his group obtained the requisite number of signatures on the petitions to force the town to hold an election on the initiative. After the county registrar of voters verified that 1,873 of those signatures were valid endorsements of the initiative by registered voters in the town, the city council had the choice of simply passing the initiative using its own authority, delaying the matter for thirty days for further study or scheduling an election. The council elected to delay the matter while a study was undertaken, while simultaneously drawing up an initiative of its own, drawn along similar lines as that of the one put forth by the Alliance For Safe Access, but containing other elements. The town’s initiative, like that of the alliance, would permit the operation of a maximum of two dispensaries in Yucca Valley. But the town’s initiative would further require a security guard be present on the premises during operating hours, prohibit onsite consumption or cultivation and disallow a dispensary being located within 600 feet of a school.
The town’s measure would draw a more conservative line on signage, hours of operation, the labeling of the product and have more exacting ventilation requirements. The town’s measure also spells out its right to impose fees or taxes, on the operation, including a fee to recoup the administrative and law enforcement costs entailed in doing background checks, issuing permits, carrying out inspections and enforcement.
Based on the past statements and actions of the town council, it appears that four of its members do not favor the idea of marijuana clinics being able to set up shop in town. What has recently emerged is that councilman Bob Leone, a former police officer whose opposition to the initiative was widely assumed, stated he supported medical marijuana availability in some measure because he believed the drug had eased the suffering of his son in the last years of his life.
Given the totality of circumstance, it appears that a decision on the local sale and availability of marijuana for medical purposes is moving toward a referendum by voters, though passage of the measure is by no means assured as the two most powerful political entities in town, the Reverend Roger Mayes and the Reverend Jerel Hagerman, who can deliver a massive block of votes that is large enough to sway the election, have previously indicated their opposition to any effort to liberalize marijuana availability.
Thirty miles up Route 62, in Twentynine Palms, the city council there sent a strong signal last month that indicated there is a 4 to 1 majority among its ranks opposed to allowing marijuana dispensaries to operate there. No citizen group such as Alliance For Safe Access has taken up the cause in Twentynine Palms, and as such, the leverage to force the council to act contrary to its own sentiments is non-existent.
One member of the Twentynine Palms Council, Cora Heiser, indicated she was in favor of undoing the city’s ban on marijuana dispensaries.
Heiser, who intimated but did not directly state that she had herself used medical marijuana when she disclosed that she had two personal bouts with cancer, at the January 27 city council meeting pushed her colleagues to take up the issue of undoing the city’s existing ban on dispensaries. She appealed to the council to put on a future council agenda looking at providing more definitude to the language in the ban, making clear what specific operations are deemed out of compliance with the city’s codes. She made the suggestion that the council schedule a future public hearing to discuss adding language to an existing ban on medical marijuana dispensaries, which was passed on February 23, 2010, defining the activities and uses of medical marijuana dispensaries.
Her aim seemed to be to float the concept of allowing mobile dispensaries, i.e., marijuana delivery services, to operate in the city. The 2010 ordinance bans both dispensaries operating from traditional brick and mortar stores and mobile dispensaries.
Heiser said the provision of medical marijuana to patients who can benefit from its use “is a legal enterprise.” She urged the council to hold a public hearing to get feedback from the community, calling it “irresponsible if you don’t let the public have a say,” she said.
Councilmen John Cole and McArthur Wright were particularly dismissive of Heiser’s request.
Ultimately, the council voted 4-1 against taking up the issue at a future council meeting.

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