Pot Clinic Robbery Comes At Inauspicious Time For Upland Medical Marijuana Liberalization Advocates

(February 4) In its immediate aftermath, there was varying opinion as to whether a botched robbery at an illicit marijuana dispensary in Upland on January 30 will impact the outcome of a referendum on permitting pot clinics to operate openly in the city.
On Friday night, January 30 sometime before 11 p.m. two adults, later identified by police as Christopher Baca, 30, of Covina, and Diego Sanchez, 19, of Upland and two 15-year-old boys approached three male employees of a medical marijuana dispensary located at 759 N. Mountain Avenue as they were leaving the just-closed establishment. At gunpoint, the three clinic employees were forced to reopen the clinic. Inside, one of the employees was pistol whipped and another was shot in the leg, before Baca, Sanchez and their two accomplices seized money and marijuana, tied the three victims up and then left, taking the Lexus owned by one of the clinic employees.
One of the victims untied himself and called the police.
Police obtained information that by 4:40 a.m. on January 31 led them to an apartment in the 1300 block of Randy Street, less than a mile away from where the crime had occurred.
In response to commands that they surrender, the suspects barricaded themselves in the apartment. A six-hour stand-off ensued, which was brought to a close after the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department sent its paramilitary team to the location and a negotiator with that unit persuaded three of the suspects to surrender. The fourth suspect was found yet hiding in a neighboring apartment.
The incident took place less than a month after the California Cannabis Coalition, led by that group’s president, Craig Beresh, and one of its board members, Randy Welty, obtained a sufficient number of Upland’s registered voters’ signatures to qualify an initiative calling for the permitting of cannabis dispensaries in Upland in a zone along Foothill Boulevard between Airport Drive to the east and Monte Vista Avenue to the west. While informal surveys of Upland’s voters indicate a majority of city residents are opposed to the legalized sale of marijuana in the city, organizers of the petition drive are hopeful that they can network with that portion of the citizenry who cast a more favorable eye on the substance to drive them in large enough numbers to the polls during a special election where there is anticipated to be lackluster voter turnout to have the initiative pass.
The 759 North Mountain Avenue dispensary was an illicit one, operating without a city permit, as are some eleven or twelve other dispensaries. The city effort to shutter them has proven ineffective, in part because previous legal maneuvering by the city to close other dispensaries, while ultimately successful, proved costly, and the city lacks the resources to find and identify the black market operators let alone take them to court.
All the same, some city officials and some citizens are dead set against the initiative and they are preparing to launch an effort to win the hearts and minds of the city’s voters to convince them to vote against it.
In this way, the robbery of the Mountain Avenue dispensary could prove a rallying point for those who will argue against marijuana liberalization in Upland, providing an argument that such operations will attract violent crime. In an open forum devoted to Upland, some city residents expressed the belief that any business operations that engage in cash sales are going to attract crime and that closing down the current illicit dispensaries or preventing the opening of legal ones in Upland is not going to discourage armed or strong arm robberies. Others weighed in by saying that because pot shops keep cash and drugs on premises, they are more likely to draw violent predators to them.
City councilman Gino Filippi, who appears to be the elected city official least resistant to permitting marijuana clinics to operate within the city, said, the January 30 robbery had not impacted his views on the advisability of tolerating and licensing medical marijuana clinics in Upland.
““I don’t think this unfortunate incident strongly changed my mind,” Filippi said. In my view, medical marijuana dispensaries are not broken into because they are places of iniquity, but rather because they generate large amounts of money and financial institutions have been reluctant at best permitting them to open business checking accounts. Unfortunately this most serious incident of crime happened near a residential area. The fact that it took place when the least number of dispensaries over the past several years were operating in the city could invalidate the ‘dispensaries equal crime’ theory. For that reason alone, I think that drawing a direct line between operating dispensaries and this type of crime incident could be a false connection.”
Filippi said the die is cast with regard to the initiative.
“I see two options for the city,” he said. “We can 1) adopt the proposed ordinance, or 2) prepare and pay for a special election. I agree with former city manager Stephen Dunn when he recommended several months ago that the city sit down and talk with the authors of the ordinance. The city could have provided a unified approach not only amongst the city council but also with the group of citizens who authored the petition. Unfortunately the city dropped the ball, in my view. For several years, I’ve been dedicated to balancing the budget and saving the city money wherever possible. There’s not much I can do about whether this item goes to the voters or not. It appears that the initiative does in fact have over the 15 percent needed for a special election, and California law essentially forces a city to pay for a special election.”
The city needs to husband its resources and spend its money judiciously, Filippi said.
“The city had spent approximately $500,000 in legal costs on the medical marijuana issue alone as of 2014,” he said. “As stated a few years ago, I am concerned with the amount of financial resources and attorney’s fees the city of Upland paid in dealing with medical marijuana dispensaries operating in the city, when funds are needed for the operation of vital general services, public safety and public works that the city provides to residents and businesses.”

Leave a Reply