Former City Manager Gets No Traction At Marijuana Sales Initiative Advocation Forum

A cultural and generational gulf in the City of Gracious living was in clear evidence at Upland’s Carnegie Library on August 17.
Playing to an extremely hostile crowd, former Upland City Manager Stephen Dunn on Wednesday gamely sought to convince a key cross section of the community that the era of strict prohibition of marijuana is an anachronistic relic of an era gone by. He asserted that permitting the sale of what is purported to be medical marijuana under a regulated regime will triply benefit the city. He said permitting licensed dispensaries will give the city the tools to rein in a burgeoning black market, eliminate the proliferating illegal dispensaries that are encroaching on city neighborhoods by confining their presence to a relatively compact geographical area in what has become the city’s red light district and providing the city with revenue in the form of what has been variously represented to be a tax or a franchise fee.
Dunn is one of a relative handful of current or former civic leaders in California intrepidly seeking to convince an entrenched and powerful strata of the population that efforts to maintain an across-the-board ban on cannabis is a vestige of a mindset that has been overtaken by events and the march of societal change. Dunn’s message was that a new ethos is upon Upland and California in general, such that attempts to cling to the standards of the past is counterproductive to the underlying principles and goals of those so adamant on maintaining the status quo. Dunn asserted that the city and its residents had to accept “the new reality” or consign themselves to waging a battle they could not possibly win.
Apparent to neutral observers in the room was that the vast number of those in attendance – those adamantly opposed to the liberalization of marijuana laws – shared little or no common ground with Dunn in his perception of the nature of the substance at issue – marijuana. While Dunn perceives cannabis as a relatively benign intoxicant that has found currency with what is undeniably a critical mass of the California population, most in the crowd, it seemed, saw no real distinction between marijuana and other street drugs such as heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine. And though one of Dunn’s precepts was that social, political, legal and practical reality dictates that some middle ground be found to accommodate the social trend at large not only in Upland but up and down the state, the vast majority of those present at the Carnegie Library on Wednesday evening evinced no willingness to back off on holding the status quo line and maintaining an official stance that prohibits sale and distribution of the drug, even in the face of overwhelming evidence that those restrictions are porous at best, and the acknowledgement of government officials that enforcement is non-existent or ineffectual.
In scheduling the presentation, Dunn had hoped to attract a balance of residents concerned enough about the failure of the city’s current approach and the expense it entails to have them undertake an openminded consideration of his proposed response. Indeed, Dunn and his organizations, and Californians For Responsible Government, paid the city a $150 rental fee to use the library for the meeting. He mailed numerous fliers to attract people to the meeting. Upon learning of the meeting, however, prime movers in Upland’s anti-marijuana movement rallied, alerting others of like mind to attend Dunn’s presentation. Based upon the body language of the 150-plus crowd that showed up, well over 90 percent of those there were entirely indisposed to Dunn’s message.
Dunn began his presentation with the assertion that a new era is at hand in which marijuana use is moving into the mainstream and a thriving black market to serve the appetite of those using the drug has established itself in Upland.
“Upland is swamped with illegal marijuana,” Dunn asserted. “Why are criminals free to profit?” he asked. Because he said “enforcement has failed.” The city, beset with “a budget stretched thin,” he said, does not have the financial resources to carry out vigorous enforcement of the ban it has in place. As a consequence, he said, there are “eleven illegal storefronts” that are selling marijuana “near schools and homes with no control, no oversight and untaxed profits.”
He noted that the eleven storefronts he referenced were merely the ones that were advertising their presence. There were several others, he said, operating more discretely.
“Criminals free to profit,” he said, because “federal & county attorneys won’t prosecute and Upland has only civil penalties & fines” to combat the proliferation of dispensaries. The city’s civil action against the “dispensaries tie up the courts,” he said. “This is expensive, failed enforcement. Millions of tax dollars are wasted.”
He said that while he was city manager, the city followed a hard line against those who attempted to purvey the drug, with only limited expense. “The contract lawyers cost the city millions,” he said, and quantified the cost of the effort as running to “$100,000 per enforcement.” The city overall, during his three-year tenure as city manager, spent $1.4 million in those efforts, which he said proved ultimately quixotic because “When we would get a dispensary closed at one location, it would reopen at another.”
At this point, Dunn said, “The city faces a budget crisis,” and he referenced an Inland Valley Daily Bulletin report that in a “best-case scenario, the city could be in a deficit in two years.”
It was time, Dunn reasoned, for the city to take “an alternative approach” that such cities as San Diego and San Jose had embraced. The strategy would be, Dunn said, to permit a limited number of dispensaries to be licensed and allowed to function under strict regulations which would include the city taxing the sales. This would allow, he said, the city to tap into a heretofore unavailable revenue stream, sidestep the looming deficit and simultaneously generate money to enforce the sensible regulations of the marijuana clinics.
Even before he completed his presentation, however, Dunn was set upon by many of those in attendance.
Clearly, few if any accepted Dunn’s premise that tolerating the use of or sale of marijuana in the city was reasonable. The crowd evidenced an outright philosophical rejection of Dunn’s position that current society must come to terms with the actuality of widespread use and availability of the substance, though he did score at least one debating point by asking for a show of hands as to whether any one there disputed his assertion that the drug could be purchased easily in the city by anyone, including teenagers. No one raised a hand in response to the question.
But Dunn found himself hamstrung in having to advocate for the medical marijuana clinic permitting initiative currently on the ballot, one that was sponsored by strip club owner Randy Welty, which will allow three clinics to operate along Foothill Boulevard at the city’s western extreme between Airport Drive and Dewey Way, proximate to the city limits and the San Bernardino County/Los Angeles County border. In recent years, the span of Old Route 66 has become dotted with a host of businesses dealing in illicit products and services, including marijuana dispensaries and brothels in the guise of massage parlors. Welty owns or controls property along that span of road, as does the Cable Family, which currently employs Dunn as the manager at Cable Airport. Dunn, not very successfully, had to fend off counter-assertions from the crowd that the pending marijuana dispensary permitting initiative was drafted by Welty to meet his own selfish designs and would confer upon Welty a monopoly that would need to be enforced by the city. Rather puerilely, Dunn argued that the passage of the initiative would not lead to an actual monopoly, since there would be two other dispensary operators beside Welty. This led to insinuations from the crowd that Dunn and the Cable Family had some level of financial interest in promoting the initiative, since it would lead to the Cable Family establishing a dispensary on their property along Foothill. Dunn disputed that suggestion, implying though not directly stating that the Cable Family had no such future plans or intent.
When pressed on the flaws within the pending initiative, Dunn sought to turn the tables on those making the point, saying that city had been offered the opportunity in 2014 before Welty’s people began to circulate the initiative petition to provide input with regard to the proposed regulations within the initiative, but had spurned that opportunity.
In one pointed exchange, Dunn was confronted with the assertion that legalizing the sale of marijuana in the city would have the dual effects of making it more easily accessible to minors and compromising the ability of parents to advocate against their children using it on the basis of its illegality. Dunn countered that revenue from the marijuana tax could be used to educate youth to abstain from its use. That triggered a counter-response to the effect that it would be preferable for the drug not to be available at all.
Maxine Curtis in addressing Dunn did not question him as much as she challenged the need for medical marijuana dispensaries altogether. She said those needing the drug for its therapeutic properties could get it in its oral pill formulation – Marinol – at a licensed pharmacy. She said that the State of Colorado had deteriorated after recreational use of marijuana was legalized there.
Tom Mitchell questioned Dunn’s assertion that the initiative would provide for any sort of meaningful regulation at all, asking how Dunn calculated an ordinance that permitted three dispensaries to operate legally could be enforced to prevent unlicensed dispensaries from operating if the city could not at the present time effectively enforce its total ban. To this question, Dunn suggested that the revenue to be generated by means of the $75,000 per year franchise fee at each of the dispensaries – $225,000 annually – could be used to fund the enforcement.
At one point, the forum was on the brink of declining into a round of pointed personal attacks on Dunn himself. After Dunn made reference to the anemic enforcement effort by the city, Rod McAuliffe essentially accused Dunn of being responsible for that lackadaisical enforcement effort. McAuliff asked Dunn if he had, while he was city manager, instructed then-police chief Jeff Mendenhall to have the police department “stand down” in its marijuana dispensary enforcement, implying by the way he worded the question that Dunn had done just that. Dunn disputed McAuliffe’s suggestion.
Albert Pattison, seemingly fed up with the suggestion that the city could convert making marijuana available to those who want to use it into a tax revenue-producing boon, eschewed the microphone being used by most of those present to offer their input or ask questions of Dunn, and instead inveighed, in his loud baritone that needed no amplification, that many families in Upland, including his own, had been damaged by the scourge of drug addiction and that neither he nor those he is personally in league with would idly accept having marijuana sales condoned by the passage of the pending initiative.
Dunn, who has two more such forums on tap for later this year, privately told the Sentinel he did not believe he obtained the results he had hoped to achieve with the informational meeting. He implied, however, that the true test of the community’s judgment with regard to the wisdom of putting in place a regime to regulate and tax the scores of millions of dollars in medical marijuana being sold in the city will come with the balloting in November in which the entirety of the city’s electorate will weigh in rather than the energetic, passionate and well-meaning minority of the city’s residents who confronted him this week.

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