After Hesitation, Adelanto Drifts Toward Embracing Medical Marijuana Dispensaries

Driven more by economic necessity than a belief that marijuana qualifies as legitimate medicine, Adelanto city officials are again contemplating allowing cannabis dispensaries to set up shop in this High Desert municipality of 33,084.
As a municipal entity, Adelanto has been in serious decline for a decade or more, with dwindling revenues having created a situation in which the cost of delivering services to residents has consistently outrun the city’s income for the last several budgetary cycles.
In 2013, the city council as it was then composed, at the urging of then-city manager Jim Hart, declared the city was in a state of fiscal emergency. The city’s residents, however, refused to consent to impose on themselves a tax that city officials insisted was needed to stave off bankruptcy. Hart’s only other alternative was to seek out development projects that offered the prospect of fee or tax generation, but his performance in that regard was lackluster at best. In February, he resigned as city manager and the city continues to teeter on a precipice overlooking an abyss of bankruptcy.
Earlier this year, Johnny Salazar, the owner of the Green Tree Health Healing Clinic, a medical marijuana dispensary, began promoting the idea of having the city sanction such operations, which would be regulated and taxed. Salazar encountered rough sledding at first, as the council in general, and council member Charley Glasper in particular, were adamantly opposed to the concept of allowing Adelanto to be put on the map as one of the few San Bernardino County cities embracing marijuana sales, even if it offered a means of providing needed revenue. But as Salazar dialogued with city officials, discussing the possibility of putting a dispensary-permitting initiative on the ballot, Glasper, who remained in opposition to the whole idea of permitting marijuana sales in the city, softened. He appeared to be willing to have the city council use its authority to schedule such a vote, if, he reasoned, the city could piggyback another vote on a city-sponsored initiative to impose a sales tax or utility tax on its residents and if Salazar would pay for the costs of the special election for those initiatives. Glasper hopefully calculated that the city’s voters just might pass the tax measure and reject the marijuana clinic proposal and for that reason was on the verge of voting to put the measure on the ballot. Salazar, however, was unwilling to bankroll the special election, angling instead to have the council simply adopt an ordinance establishing dispensaries meeting certain criteria in return for permission to operate. For Glasper and the remainder of the council at that time, that was a deal-breaker, and the concept was abandoned, or so it seemed.
It now appears that Adelanto officials are again entertaining the notion of allowing medical marijuana dispensaries to operate in the city. Simultaneously, there is a parallel proposal that goes the dispensary concept one better, one that would have the city serve as host to cannabis cultivation and research facilities as well.
In the course of two meetings held last month, the terms for the dispensary and cultivation/research facility proposals were hammered out. Those concepts have been committed to paper and the drafts were presented to the city council this week. While Glasper again enunciated his misgivings about Adelanto garnering a reputation as a destination for drug users, the council consented to having the planning commission look over the plans. If the concept passes muster with the planning commission, it will ultimately come back to the city council for final approval. Topics hashed out at the May meetings were whether the sale of medical marijuana should be permitted, what limitations on the sale should be imposed, where and how many such clinics would be permissible, the hours they would be allowed to operate, licensing and fees. The turning point came, it seemed, when Glasper, who had been the city official most adamantly opposed to the legalization/conventionalization of cannabis clinics, pointedly stated the city’s financial challenges had pushed it to the point where the city has “to try to find out every way to get out of the rut.” Tacitly, Glasper admitted the city should look at permitting marijuana to be sold and taxed.
Councilman Jermaine Wright said he was squeamish and bearish on the dispensaries but bullish on the research and cultivation options. Councilman Ed Camargo, who had previously backed Glasper in his effort to keep the city’s door shut on dispensaries, indicated he believed the city should take a hard look at dispensaries and then continue to ban them.
Councilman John “Bug” Woodard said the compassionate availability of marijuana would be a plus on the health care side and a double plus in terms of the revenue they might provide the city.
The dispensary ordinance, as currently drafted, calls for permitting up to three to operate in the city. Their hours of business would be limited to 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. in the city’s industrial park and they could be no closer than 500 feet away from schools, parks or residences. Nor could the dispensaries be clustered, and would not be permitted within 1,000 feet from one another. The ordinance also specifies a six-month test period, giving the city the opportunity shut the dispensaries down if the problems they introduce prove intractable. The research and cultivation ordinance as proposed would permit five such facilities to be in operation simultaneously, with no curtailment on operating hours, and provides that they be located in the city’s industrial park. They too would function on a six-month trial basis.
To facilitate and regulate the dispensaries and research/cultivation operations, an oversight board would be formed, consisting of two law enforcement officers, a planning commissioner and another citizen appointed at the discretion of the city council. The dispensaries would have to be low profiled and non-descript or benignly-descript.
The council said it will earmark any and all revenue from the cannabis operations for park and recreation programs, freeing up money already committed to the recreation division to other uses.
The council is simultaneously seriously considering other means of generating revenue. Glasper is pushing a one percent tax on all city-based businesses that transact business outside city limits. And the council in May adopted a fee schedule for the owners of rental properties, ostensibly calling it an inspection fee. This month, there were proposals by Glasper and Wright to significantly up those fees.

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