Mayor’s Weed University Idea A Sign Of Changing Times

VICTORVILLE—It is an idea that is as old as it is new: combine college students with marijuana. Now the City of Adelanto is looking to move the concept from the dormitories into the lecture halls, classrooms and laboratories.
Times have changed. Right up until the end of the 20th Century and into the first two decades of the Third Millennium, the only institutions in California giving an official welcome to those extolling the use, and facilitating the sale and purchase of marijuana were of the penal variety. And had someone in those years suggested creating an educational institution to study the benefits of marijuana along with the most efficient ways of growing it, packaging it, distributing it, marketing it, smoking or otherwise imbibing it, that person would have been consigned to a mental institution.
Already, the City of Adelanto, which qualifies as one of the poorest municipalities in San Bernardino County, is in a fierce competition with one of the few county cities with the distinction of being poorer still, Needles. The two are neck and neck in laying claim to being the “marijuana capital of San Bernardino County.” While Needles was once leading in that competition, Adelanto last year made a major stride toward monetizing its willingness to tolerate what was anticipated to be the legitimized cannabis industry. With visions of millions of dollars in revenue dancing in their heads, Adelanto officials are now seeking to expand their city’s position from accommodating producers and wholesalers of the once illegal substance to embracing sales, with a future vision of building an ivory tower to study the drug in all of its ramifications and permutations, literally becoming a national or world academic center for the intoxicant.
In 2012, 16 years after California voters statewide passed by 55.6 percent Proposition 215, or the Compassionate Use Act of 1996, Needles, a 4,844-population city located on the eastern shore of California and San Bernardino County at the Colorado River, became the first local city to truly liberalize its attitude toward marijuana. On November 26, 2012, Needles voters approved the adoption of the Marijuana Business Tax Ordinance and authorized the collection of a marijuana business tax of up to 10 percent of gross receipts. In December 2012, the Needles City Council set the marijuana business tax at the maximum 10 percent.
Thereafter, a number of entrepreneurs began transacting business as marijuana purveyors in Needles, putting the city at the forefront of San Bernardino County cities with respect to allowing the sale of medical marijuana. In this way, Needles enjoyed the distinction, dubious or positive depending on one’s personal perspective, as the leader in the marijuana industry within the largest county in the lower 48 states. In December 2014, with prospective marijuana operation applicants threatening to burgeon into the dozens, the city drew the line on the number of dispensaries it would allow, restricting the number to the five then functioning with fully legal permits.
In November 2015, Needles lost the earmark of being San Bernardino County’s primary civic extoller and intended municipal cannabis profiteer when Adelanto legalized marijuana cultivation within its industrial parks. In doing so, Adelanto continued to ban retailing marijuana, that is, direct sale of the drug to end users, calculating the city stood more to gain financially by wholesaling large quantities of the product to retailers outside of the city.
The same year, the state legislature passed and the governor signed the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act. Adelanto’s action served as a wake-up call to Needles officials, who recognized that they would need to adapt the city’s existing protocols, allowances and regulations with regard to marijuana to a changing standard if the city was to fully exploit the availability of the drug in its community as a way of bolstering municipal finances.
They moved to allow the city’s existing pot shops to become growers as well. In this way, Needles was able to regain its title, which virtually all of the county’s municipal officials elsewhere except in Adelanto were only too glad to relinquish to it, of being the county’s most marijuana tolerant jurisdiction.
The game changed once more in November 2016 when what was also known as Proposition 64, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, was again approved by California voters. Both Needles and Adelanto found themselves in the position of being able to capitalize, in the state’s ever-more tolerant atmosphere with regard to cannabis, on the existing businesses, protocols, support and regulation networks, availability and infrastructures they had already established.
Adelanto officials shed whatever squeamishness they may have once possessed, and with the prospect of being able to grow plants to feed not just “pharmacies” trafficking in the “medical” product but rather megatons of the stuff to accommodate the appetite of the millions of potential smokers of the plant who want to use it for “recreational” purposes, they are looking to capture revenues in the seven figures and potentially in the eight figures annually. The restriction against retail sales in the city of 31,765 is on the way out, such that pharmacies and stores marketing intoxicating hemp will soon be in competition with the city’s existing drug stores and liquor stores.
Adelanto Mayor Richard Kerr, who has not allowed the consideration that he is a retired Marine interfere with the city council’s consensus that the city needs to act, and act quickly to cash in on the marijuana bonanza before other cities gear up to compete, has gone on public relations kick lately, looking to make respectable deriving a profit off the sale of a substance that just a few years ago could get someone a ten year prison sentence. Kerr, who had suffered a broken collarbone, several cracked ribs and a partial collapsed lung after he took a fall on a motorcycle in the desert at Adelanto’s Grand Prix race last month, sojourned to the meeting of the Victor Valley College Board of Trustees on February 14.
Board member Joe Brady had called for a discussion of medical marijuana research being placed on the agenda, and Kerr showed up, seemingly no worse for wear and, on the spot, offered to have his city bankroll the creation of a marijuana research facility for the college if the trustees agree up front to locate that campus in Adelanto.
“I will give you the land,” said Kerr, boldly. “We will build a college for you. Not only that, we will fund the college for you, through federal and state grants. You have to do nothing except embrace what we can offer.”
Kerr suggested that the campus could be located at what is called the Glasper Center, which is named after Adelanto City Councilman Charlie Glasper, once a die-hard marijuana opponent who has come around to see the economic benefits of green marketing. The center is at 17537 Montezuma Street, not far from Highway 395.
Victor Valley College Board President Brandon Wood wasn’t so sure Kerr had not been smoking too much of his city’s major agricultural product.
“You’re seriously offering VVC that the City of Adelanto will build a satellite campus … and pay all the costs associated with that for essentially a technical training center for the hemp medical cannabis industry?” Wood asked.
“Yes, sir,” Kerr responded. He said the students would then be able to put the skills they pick up at Pakalolo University. “When the students are done being educated through you, they can work in Adelanto,” Kerr beamed.
A still somewhat skeptical board member, Dennis Henderson, pressed Kerr on whether the remainder of the Adelanto City Council was on board with the idea, including providing the campus grounds and building the structures to house the classrooms and laboratories. Kerr assured him he had the council’s backing. An expansion of Victor Valley College to a satellite campus has been on a back burner for some time. In 2008, the college picked up 55 acres on the Oro Grande Wash for $10.9 million, but there is not money in the college budget to undertake architectural or engineering plans, let alone the funds for actual construction. Nor does the college have faculty members to spare from its existing campus on Bear Valley Road just east of Spring Valley Parkway.
For Kerr, however, creating what could well become the world’s first marijuana college represents prestige that could only serve to burnish Adelanto’s position as a leader in the cannabis industry, and further lock in the advantage he and his council colleagues see in cornering the market on selling weed to the millions of people who get their kicks out of blowing grass.
Kerr’s proposal found support from Dr. Trent Jones, who uses aquaponics to grow what he euphemistically referred to as “natural plant medicine.” By billing the research as related to natural plant medicine, food production and medical product production, Jones said the college could get around federal law, which still classifies marijuana as a Schedule 1 narcotic, and get federal education grants and subsidies for among other things, a “vocational horticulture program model.”
Board member Marianne Tortorici said she did not consider it likely that Victor Valley College, as a two-year institution, was going to capture any research grants, which normally fall to four-year colleges or universities.
Brady, however, expressed confidence that community colleges might be given clearance to participate in such research if it were to be broached correctly.
Kerr said he wanted to get started right away and he was directed to further explore the matter by dialoging with Victor Valley College President and Superintendent Dr. Roger Wagner.

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