By Mark Gutglueck
A modern morality play, one with changeable heroes and villains and no resolution, completed its first act in the San Bernardino City Council Chambers Tuesday night, as the council took up what its response would be to a successful petition drive by San Bernardino resident Vincent Guzman to place a citywide voter initiative on the ballot that would repeal the city’s current ban on medical marijuana dispensaries and allow such enterprises to sell the drug within the 59.6-square mile confines of the city. By the end of the council’s more than three hour-long consideration of the issue, the council reluctantly voted to place Guzman’s ballot measure on the November ballot, have city manager Mark Scott arrange for a poll of city residents to ascertain their support or opposition to Guzman’s proposal and their attitude toward allowing or banning medical marijuana sales in the city overall, and directed city attorney Gary Saenz to draft an alternative medical marijuana dispensary permitting ordinance initiative that may or may not be but on the November ballot to compete with Guzman’s initiative ordinance, depending on the outcome of the polling.
The entirety of the issue was spread across three agenda items, the first dealing with Guzman’s initiative and then two others, one relating to the polling and the other pertaining to the potential alter-
native initiative. The item relating to Guzman’s initiative had been placed on the council agenda by city clerk Georgeann Hanna, who had prepared in advance a neutral presentation of the item and its legal and procedural context. In his capacity of presiding officer over the meeting, however, Mayor Carey Davis, whose sentiments in opposition to allowing medical marijuana to be sold in the city were unmistakeable, usurped from Hanna the role of introducing the item, a departure from normal protocol which, as was visibly apparent, miffed the city clerk.
Davis used a slideshow which dwelt at length on the purported health and safety hazards represented by marijuana use, suggesting it was associated with vehicular fatalities, memory failure and loss of intelligence on the part of its users, academic failure, crime and antisocial behavior. His slide presentation involved a map of the city showing what he suggested was a correlation between existing illicit dispensary operations and murders that have taken place in San Bernardino. He emphasized his belief that Guzman’s initiative did not involve sufficient regulation of the impacts of marijuana sales as outlined in the so-called Cole Memo from the Department of Justice outlining the standards that must be used in regulating marijuana. Those shortcomings included, Davis suggested, failures to address preventing sales and distribution to minors, preventing revenue from moving to criminal enterprises, preventing diversion of marijuana to states where it remains illegal, preventing the guise of authorized activity being used for illicit activity, preventing violence and the use of firearms, and preventing drugged driving.
Davis also took pains to point out that Guzman was no longer speaking for himself or his advocacy of the initiative, having designated the out-of-town California Cannabis Coalition and its president Craig Beresh to represent him. Davis asked if Guzman or any representatives from the California Cannabis Coalition were present in the council chambers, eliciting no response.
When the matter was opened up for public input, what ensued was what several of the council members opposed to the legal availability of marijuana in the city later said was a true reflection of the community’s attitude with regard to the marijuana issue, consisting of an ostensible cross section of those willing to weigh in on the subject. The majority of those speaking encouraged the council to perpetuate the marijuana ban or offer a more restrictive initiative than that floated by Guzman. Marijuana availability advocates suggested this lopsided expression of opposition to the legal availability of marijuana was not organic and spontaneous, but rather had elements of a staged presentation that was orchestrated by the mayor and some of the council members who wanted to be able to use the overwhelming expression of opposition to legalizing marijuana to justify their official action against it.
During these public comments and some of the comments of the members of the council that followed, both sides sought to seize the high moral ground, claiming their position on the issue was more caring, sensible, reasonable, sensitive to reality and responsive to the needs of public safety and the wellbeing of the community. The marijuana availability advocates suggested the availability opponents were backward thinking and unwilling or unable to adapt to a changing social and legal milieu. Availability opponents characterized availability advocates as besotted miscreants, who were lazy, ineffectual and intellectually suspect degenerates, or outright criminals.
Heidi Stevenson, the first member of the public to speak, asserted the moral superiority of those seeking to keep marijuana from being available in the city.
“I don’t think any of us should question whether or not we should have recreational marijuana legalized,” she said. “I think anyone with an intelligent mind and honest heart knows the answer to that.” She decried the “impact it would have on our children. Marijuana has been in great use since I was a kid. I had a lot of friends who thought they were very smart and very creative and it enhanced that for them. I can tell you it did not. They really didn’t even know where they were. With all that we have learned in the last thirty or forty years, we would like to know that our kids and grand kids are not confronted even more with the use of drugs than we were.”
Stevenson continued, “We shouldn’t just go with the polls of the younger generation and say, ‘Okay. Let’s do what they ask us to do.’ We should be out there fighting to make known what we know and if we are users, we should quit.”
Stevenson cited the case of her best friend, identified only as Jennifer, Stevenson addressed her, saying, “I’m sorry about your shattered dreams.” Stevenson then related how Jennifer had aspirations to be a neurosurgeon when they in the fifth grade Jennifer, had, however, slipped into drug use in middle school, Stevenson said, and never achieved her potential. “For anyone who says it is not a gateway drug, you’re a liar,” Stevenson said. “It is a wrong moral choice to dot this city with marijuana grow[ing facilities]s. It is a wrong moral choice to dot this city with dispensaries.”
Joe Doyle, an 80-year-old city resident, said, “I spent fifty years working with the youth of this community in scouting and through the church and public safety programs. I’ve seen bright, bright kids, neat kids, just go down the sewer because in the eighth grade or ninth grade they started using pot. Anyone who says you can regulate that is wrong. It’s regulated now and it’s not working. If you send it to the ballot, please do an impact study instead of a questionnaire. The people need to know what this is going to do to our community.”
Patti Genther said legalizing dispensaries would bring “drug cartels and organized crime into our city.” She said legalization of marijuana would result in “increased homelessness. Don’t we have enough in our city? Our city has worked hard. Our city went to the bottom financially and has come back. Our schools are doing better. Why do we want this to take us back to the bottom again?” She said taxing the profits from marijuana sales would serve to “launder” drug money.
John Lunt said statistics showed that in Colorado there is higher drug use since the legalization of marijuana there. He said marijuana use resulted in “short term memory loss, longer reaction time and lung problems. This city has enough crime as it is,” saying someone had “recently burglarized my house to get marijuana. I know what I am talking about. I used it for eleven years. I tweaked my lungs. I’m a teacher now. I forget things very easily. You guys don’t see the results of what happens with this stuff… when you’re friend goes through a windshield and dies… when one of them hangs himself from a rope because they’re loaded. People die. People leaving little kids in bath tubs because they’re high. That’s the stuff you don’t see, and I see it all the time. I have a former student. His dad owns a dispensary, so he’s already hooked on it. I had another student on it. He killed someone at Club 215 because he was high. He’s doing fifty years. He did that when he was 17 years old. I see as a teacher what happens to these kids on Facebook as they go through their life high on weed. Their lives are terrible – felonies, convictions, all this kind of stuff.”
Colleen Shelton said that “As a young mother I read all the books on how to raise healthy and successful children. I wanted them to be kind to one another. I wanted them to be good citizens in the city they live in. I wanted them to love their country and love God. It was so hard to be a parent. I taught them not to smoke cigarettes because it is not healthy. I taught them not to do drugs. With all of those outside forces attacking our children, you hope those core values are going to take and one of them is ‘Don’t do drugs.’ So here we are today, deciding whether we want to legalize growing of the very drug we taught our children we don’t want them to do. Now we are trying to legalize it in San Bernardino. Are we going to sell our values for money? That is what it is coming down to. There are other places we can grow this. We don’t want it to be here. How can we possibly vote to legalize it and then go home and tell our children, “Don’t do drugs?’ By allowing this we are telling our children marijuana is okay.”
Ellen Timmreck said “This is a really bad idea for our city. There is already enough crime here and this will only attract more of the wrong element. Anyone with a little foresight can see this will contribute to the increase in crime. And it would have to be heavily policed and highly regulated and we know we don’t have the personnel to do that right now. We need more police, not more drugs in our town. If you want to keep good families here, this is not the way to go. We want to live in a wholesome atmosphere and feel safe in our homes and in our public areas.”
Robert Porter told the city council that by not assuming a leadership role it had created a vacuum and thus the opportunity for Guzman to float a self-serving ordinance that will benefit outside interests looking to market marijuana in San Bernardino. He said the council should dispense with its backward-thinking and regressive marijuana prohibitionist attitude and instead embracing the era of toleration for an intoxicant that is being used by a wider and wider cross section of the population. He said he and others had previously appealed to the city to enact sensible marijuana regulations. “The people speaking against this measure don’t know what is going on here,” he said. “It has been forced on you guys – forced. What did we tell you? You wouldn’t listen. It is being forced. You don’t have a choice.”
Porter said the drive to limit people’s choices was not only wrongheaded but futile and unconstitutional. “Check into McDonald’s,” he said. “They are killing a lot of people, too.” He said that Mayor Davis was being intellectually dishonest in drawing an association between the location of dispensaries and the proliferation of murders in San Bernardino. He said such a disingenuous use of data could be turned on the council members themselves. “You all live here, too,” he said. “You can associate anything with all the murders in this town. Why did you not spend the whole weekend studying how to make this work for San Bernardino instead of trying to find a way to prevent it, when you can’t? The lawyers are telling you [that] you can’t. Work with it. Make this work for our city.”
Laurie Hassell, a teacher, said she believed there were “holes in this measure.” She referenced the restriction that required a dispensary to be at least 600 feet from a school. She said this was an insufficient buffer since “Many students walk to school. It is an easy walk for most students” providing “easy access for young people, students. I do not believe it would contribute to the quality of life for children in that area. This measure is not written for the benefit of the citizens of our city. It is written for those living outside our city to get what they want.”
Bruce Sibbett said that while he was in the U.S. Army during the Viet Nam War and in Fon Tiet, members of the 101st Airborne had obtained some marijuana and “after becoming high on the marijuana a couple of the soldiers decided they would step out onto the street and have an old western shoot out with .45 automatics. Unfortunately, they missed each other but they did hit a small girl down the street and killed her. In a war zone this would be called ‘collateral damage.’”
Sibbett suggested that allowing marijuana to be grown in San Bernardino would result in another form of collateral damage. “If you have grow areas or even pot dispensaries but particularly grow areas close to residential or in and among residential, whether it is local people or gangs, they are going to want that valuable crop,” Sibbett said. “When they come in there to steal some of that valuable crop, the owners are going to want to defend that crop. Shootings are going to result. What cost are we going to place on our children or the collateral damage to our city?”
Donald Wright told the council, “If this vice is to be, then you must control the way it is operated. As much as I will fight to ensure that both measures fail, it is also your responsibility to provide a reasonable alternative, one that you can control and one that you have the authority to modify and fix and correct and take care of those things.”
Carrie Jenkins said that “There are employment problems in this city that this will just make worse. There are companies in this city that are constantly looking for drivers. Robertson’s Ready Mix is always looking for drivers but the problem is [most applicants] don’t have a good driving record and they can’t pass a drug test. This is not going to help our city. This is not going to help the poverty in our city. Just because it is popular with a younger group, it is not going to make this a good decision. They probably don’t understand all the ramifications for this.” She said passage of drug liberalization in San Bernardino would result in the “stereotypical effect” seen in the behavior of “pot smokers – not working, sitting around, blaming everyone else, collecting a check for disability because they can’t work. This is not something we want in our city.”
A statement by the Reverend Joshua Beckley of the Ecclesia Fellowship was read by Margaret Hill. Beckley/Hill said, “Legitimizing marijuana facilities in our city would be detrimental to an already hopeless atmosphere. I have seen firsthand the destruction drugs and alcohol do to our families. This will exacerbate an already out of control situation.”
Beckley’s statement analogized employees of dispensaries to drug dealers.
“How do we tax dollars banks cannot account for?” Beckley asked. “We will be more sorry than safe if we let this happen in our city.”
Deanie Gallaher said that she and her neighbors had “experienced the devastation of fires” that swept their north San Bernardino neighborhood years ago, but had remained in place. Now many were contemplating leaving. She said the city should not offer to voters an alternative marijuana permitting and regulating initiative, saying that even if it was passed it would not be obeyed. “If they [marijuana purveyors] don’t respect the ban that exists, why would they respect any other means or ordinance? They will still do it under the table. Inform your residents, so it does not pass when it gets to the ballot.”
Darren Espiritu said “We’re going to watch our city’s future go up in smoke with this.” As for the city sponsoring an alternative initiative, he said “We have one already. Let’s not go in there and complicate an already loaded November ballot with a countermeasure that is going to confuse voters and potentially screw the whole thing up.”
Jay Linberg said the city not only needs to lighten up, it should light up, too. “Marijuana use is no big deal,” he said. “You know what you folks should do? Have you smoked a joint in your entire life?” He said those who have not smoked marijuana should try it. He characterized those fighting the initiative as “old, paranoid senior citizens.” He said the country “engaging in the war on drugs has created a system with the highest drug abuse rate in the industrial world. When I smoked a joint for the first time when I was 17, the first thing I found out was the government was lying through its teeth about why it was fighting this war. Putting this before the voters is the absolutely right thing to do.”
Linberg said that the cure marijuana abolitionists were prescribing was worse than the disease. “You say you are going this to protect kids. You know what hurts kids? Cops kicking down their doors and sticking guns in their parents’ faces,” he said.
Katheryn Redmon said “I do believe medical marijuana has a place in our community, mainly because medical marijuana is the only thing that has relieved some of the symptoms I have been experiencing. Prescription drugs have not been able to ease pain that just is there. There is no medication for bone pain. I find that marijuana works for me. The time has really come for us to regulate this promising industry in a way that serves patients’ needs, promotes health in a professional climate, with public safety at the forefront and economic opportunities assured to come once it is regulated for the benefit of all of the citizens. The professionals I represent oppose the current initiative, which is poorly written and limited by the self-serving demands of a special interest. Patients seek a common ground for the long term benefit of the city of San Bernardino, reasonable regulation with high standards. We will circulate an initiative petition. We have done a professional public opinion poll. It reflects a clear desire for sensible regulation, with age restrictions, sign restrictions, keeping dispensaries away from schools.” Redmon said most people “do not equate marijuana use with crime.”
She said permitting marijuana growing and distribution in San Bernardino would be best done through a “farm to table approach, upholding the agricultural tradition of the community. We need a collaborative effort on common ground for safe and dignified access.”
Cassie Levy said, “I think we can all agree this is a turkey.” She said the issue boils down to “would the black market go away. The black market won’t go away. She said the proposed initiative sends a “mixed message” by legalizing marijuana and stating money will be spent to educate youth against drug abuse. She said the city needs offer no alternative. “Let this turkey rise and fall on its own,” she said.
Deanna Adams said she welcomed the adversity the initiative presented
“This is a great opportunity to campaign [against it],” she said. “The challenge and adversity is in front of us. We have become lazy, fat and entitled. They now want to push another issue on us. Is this the type of society we want for our children? Campaign and teach the people what type of city you want. The homeless expect free sleep, free food, free care. America became great because of adversity. We can say we are not going to have dispensaries in our city. We do not want dispensaries. Addiction, more enslavement, entitlement, consequent laziness is what comes with that drug.”
Damian Martin said much of the legal community is in favor of permitting “cultivation, processing, manufacturing distribution and testing of marijuana.”
Michael Gallo, a 36-year resident of San Bernardino and the owner of Kelly Space and Technology, said “unfettered and expanded use of marijuana is not seen as being the passport to prosperity for our kids. I am not convinced this unfettered use of marijuana will translate into increased graduation rates for our students. No one has convinced me this will have any public benefit whatsoever.”
Sandra Olivas lamented that the initiative was “being shoved down our throats.” She said “The city attorney has to put something together. If this passes, we have no control. It’s over. Outsiders are coming in and telling us what to do.” She said the petitioners had used deception in getting people to sign the initiative petition.
Scott Olsen said the city council and city attorney Gary Saenz had surrendered the best tool they possessed in fighting the marijuana scourge when they disbanded the city attorney’s investigation unit, which had effectively enforced the marijuana dispensary ban that is in place now but which is lying fallow.
Councilman Jim Mulvihill emerged, during the council’s deliberation over the matter, as an even more strident opponent of marijuana availability than the mayor, acknowledging that he “entertained two years ago” the concept of permitting regulated medical marijuana dispensaries to operate in the city but “listening to the proponents has changed my mind.”
In what some perceived as a reflexive and reactionary or personal rejection of the concept, Mulvihill noted that some of those advocating marijuana availability had been critical of him in the past and both intemperate and impolite in their manner, which he deemed to be “antisocial behavior.”
He said marijuana use led to “an inability to reason and lowered IQ levels. Is it incidental that some of these characteristics are highly visible [in the advocates of marijuana use and legalization and some local residents who have been critical of the council in general, including Mulvihill]. You see in these people a rise in antisocial behaviors.” Mulvihill did, however, acknowledge that this observation was “highly anecdotal from my perspective [and] my particular point of view.”
He buttressed his observation marijuana use is undesirable from a community-wide standpoint with his personal experience as a college professor when he said the students using marijuana were visibly obvious. “I recognized students in class, the ones who were on pot, he said. “They spent a lot of time looking at their shoes.” Likewise, Mulvihill said, his experience in the military while he was in Vietnam registered in him the perception that marijuana wreaked havoc on a person’s mental state. “Also too from the service,” he said, “we had people [who used] they called it Cambodian Gold – it came in packets about six inches long, little roll ups and so forth. You knew people who were into that were different. They screwed up a lot. It was almost like a correlation there.”
Mulvihill called Guzman’s initiative “flawed.” While he said marijuana might be of some benefit medically, he opined that it has yet to be presented as a product in a responsible way.
“There seems to be some credibility to its medical usefulness but … dosage has never been established, drug interaction has never been established,” Mulvihill said. “Malpractice insurance does not cover drugs not approved by the FDA. So… no reputable physician would write a prescription for medical marijuana. Having marijuana dispensaries in my neighborhood and knowing the people who hang out there, those aren’t your common citizens.”
He cited a 38-year study carried out by Duke University which found among marijuana users, Mulvihill said, a “rise in anti-social behaviors, lying to get a job, experiencing relationship problems… I see that in people using marijuana, those on the streets and so forth, and in many of the people speaking here,” indicating the usual crowd of council critics, he said, who show up “just to get their face on television.”
Mulvihill said the city was “forced” to put the initiative on the ballot but he was not supportive of any alternative that would permit marijuana to be sold in San Bernardino.
“I would say we have to put it on the ballot,” he said, saying the council should “make it known” that its members do not favor it. “Don’t risk putting a side measure on the ballot that will confuse public and let marijuana slide in through the back door,” he said.
Councilman John Valdivia indicated he was clearly in opposition to the concept of having marijuana available for sale in the city but acknowledged the need to allow the voter endorsed initiative to proceed to a vote. He advocated having a standby alternate marijuana sales permitting and regulation ordinance, authored by someone affiliated with the California League of Cities, ready for consideration if a poll indicates that Guzman’s initiative will find passage with the voters. Whichever initiative garners the greatest number of votes would be enacted.
Councilman Henry Nickel’s approach was more politically nuanced. He wanted the poll to be taken to determine going into the November election whether the majority of city voters were in favor of liberalizing and decriminalizing the use of marijuana.
Conspicuous by his silence through much of the deliberation was councilman Benito Barrios, who is the council’s only unabashed supporter of permitting medical marijuana facilities to operate in the city. In the face of and in the aftermath of the outpouring of anti-marijuana sentiment during the public comment session, he appeared reluctant to take up a position that ran counter to the momentum in the room. But more than two hours into the hearing, he spoke up. He indicated a city sponsored initiative would be a logical alternative to the Guzman proposal.
“This battle has been going on back and forth a year-and-a-half/two years, ever since I have been up here on the dais, and I’ve heard people in my ward who have told me ‘I’m against marijuana but we should do something about it,’” Barrios said. “Tonight we’re getting the city attorney to do that on our terms. And at the same time getting a poll to confirm the city does want what we are doing. So, we could say no, let’s not do this, and we’re still at square one. Is it going to make a change to what is happening now in our city? No. Has the ban in the past made a difference in our city? No. It costs too much, which is money we don’t have. This is now giving us an opportunity to regulate, which by the way, the Police Officers Association is behind. I talked to them last week. If our police department is looking like, ‘Let’s move this forward but let us have our say in the piece of regulating this,’ then let’s do this. And so, I’ve taken all of this into consideration and I strongly support that we need to move forward and make this difficult change that we’re faced with. We can go all night pros and cons but in the end, what kind of results are we going to get? We don’t know. But if we continue on the same path we are going to continue with the same results. So, we have to make a change. With everything that is happening in America right now, the writing is on the wall. It’s coming, regardless of whether we like it or not. I was completely aligned with the mayor until I got educated and learned about the lies the government has given us for the past few decades. I’ve changed my mind, talking to law enforcement agencies, who agree. I can go on and on about all the information I’ve gathered, the people I’ve talked to, the doctors, the scientists, the lawyers, to come up with my conclusion. But I think at this point what is set before us is what we need to do. The future of the city is at hand. If we continue with the same route where we are at right now, nothing is going to change. I know it is scary for a lot of people. It doesn’t seem right to a lot of people, but what are our alternatives?”
At that point, Davis jumped in. “One of the alternatives is we can strengthen the ban,” Davis said.
Barrios responded. “How mayor? How do we strengthen the ban? We can strengthen the ban on paper all day, but the results on the street will continue. And that is what we’ve got to look at. What results are we going to get out there on the streets?”
“You can be just as effective as other cities that have kept the ban in place,” said Davis. “You provide more resources to combat it rather than weakening it.”
Barrios said, “Well at this juncture we are at the point of making a change, and that is what I am going to be supporting.“
Ultimately, the council voted to put Guzman’s initiative on the November ballot on a unanimous vote.
Guzman in early June had turned into Hanna, the city clerk, petitions calling for putting the initiative on the ballot that were endorsed with more than 6,000 signatures purported to be registered San Bernardino voters. Hanna said the county registrar of voters office was at that time engaged with the June primary and did not have the personnel to devote to examining all of the signatures to ascertain if they were valid. She said the registrar examined eight percent of the signatures, which she said qualified as being a “statistically significant” sampling, and concluded that Guzman had reached the 3,674 valid signature threshold to force, by law and the terms of the city charter, that the initiative be put on the ballot.
On a 6-1 vote, with Mulvihill dissenting, the council voted to have the poll conducted and give directive for city attorney Gary Saenz to begin to draft an alternative ordinance that had regulatory elements but no tax. A city backed initiative containing a tax proposal cannot go before voters during anything other than a municipal election. At present, the city’s elections are held in odd-numbered years but will be subject to a possible change due to a charter revision proposal to be considered by voters in November. A further vote is anticipated later this month on whether to actually put the drafted initiative on the ballot, pending the outcome of the poll.
By Mark Gutglueck