Pubdate: Sat, 06 Dec 2014
Source: Press-Enterprise (Riverside, CA)
Copyright: 2014 The Press-Enterprise Company
Author: Alicia Robinson


Several Inland Cities Have Spent Hundreds of Thousands Fighting Pot 
Shops, While State Polls Showing Growing Voter Support

Polls show California voters back medical  and even recreational 
marijuana. And they may get the chance to legalize it in 2016.

But a handful of Inland cities are moving in the opposite direction, 
spending at least $1.85 million in legal battles to shut down dispensaries.

Moreno Valley, Riverside, Jurupa Valley, Upland and Riverside County 
each reported spending between tens and hundreds of thousands of 
dollars to enforce their dispensary bans.

Some observers say those cities are swimming against what may be an 
unstoppable tide.

"The drug wars failed and people are fed up with all of the negative 
aspects that the drug war created," said Robert Nash Parker, a UC 
Riverside sociology professor and senior researcher at the Presley 
Center for Crime and Justice Studies.

"In a way, it's possible that Riverside and other places like it are 
fighting a losing battle."

But some officials say their constituents support the fight against 
dispensaries, and they point out that there's still a conflict 
between state law and the federal ban on marijuana.

"That means it's illegal. It doesn't matter what proposition has 
passed in the state of California," Jurupa Valley Councilman Verne 
Lauritzen said.

Some medical marijuana supporters say they can understand officials' concerns.

James De Aguilera, a Redlands attorney who has represented more than 
100 Inland dispensary operators, said that after voters approved 
medical pot in 1996, a number of facilities opened without trying to 
cooperate with local officials.

Sensible regulations and a limit on the number of facilities can help 
solve that problem, he said.

"We don't need 20 (dispensaries) in one city," he said. "We need a few."


The battle over how and where medical marijuana is provided in 
California has raged since 1996, when state voters passed the 
Compassionate Use Act, which allowed marijuana to be grown, 
distributed and used for medical purposes.

Public polling done over decades shows a shift in attitudes toward 
marijuana. According to the Field Poll, Californians' support for 
legalizing pot grew from 13 percent in 1969 to 55 percent in December 2013.

Several observers said full legalization, which would allow 
recreational use, may be coming to California as soon as 2016 if a 
potential initiative passes.

Meanwhile, Inland communities such as Moreno Valley, Riverside, 
Temecula, Upland, San Bernardino and Riverside County have banned all 
dispensaries and attempted to close them using a variety of means.

Riverside, which won its battle to ban dispensaries through the 
zoning code at the California Supreme Court in 2013, has filed court 
orders against dispensary operators, their landlords and the banks 
that hold the landlords' mortgages. Jurupa Valley has filed similar lawsuits.

Moreno Valley has fined dispensaries for operating without business 
licenses and other code violations.

Enforcing dispensary bans, often in court, has cost cities varying 
amounts, but many have recouped some money from legal judgments in their favor.

For example, Riverside County spent more than $680,000 since 2006, 
but the net cost was a little less than $271,000 when factoring in 
the money from settlements and court judgments paid by dispensary 
operators, county spokesman Ray Smith wrote in an email.

Likewise, the dispensary fight has cost Moreno Valley more than 
$15,000, but the city received about $12,000 in restitution, 
according to City Attorney Suzanne Bryant.

Compared to other city services, the nearly $805,000 Riverside has 
spent since 2007 on legal fees to fight dispensaries is a little more 
than the $792,000 the council will take from reserves this year to 
pay for extra police, code enforcement officers and other services to 
get rid of nuisances in the community.

Officials may not look at the spending that way.

Temecula Councilman Chuck Washington said his city's opposition to 
dispensaries, regardless of the cost, has helped protect the community.

"We have always placed public safety as our highest priority," he said.

The legal fees are usually a one-time cost to address a specific 
problem, Washington said.

"We'd always like to put another cop on the street, but that's an 
ongoing expense," he said.

Inland officials are fighting dispensaries for different reasons.

Several elected leaders said the outlets lead to more crime and what 
Upland Mayor Ray Musser called "hidden costs," such as car accidents 
caused by drivers under the influence.

At one time Upland had as many as half a dozen dispensaries, but most 
are now shuttered, Musser said in September. One facility was robbed 
of cash and its best-quality pot, though it had a security guard on 
duty, Musser said.

"We crossed our fingers someone did not get killed in that instance," he said.

Others said they worry that dispensaries could expose children to marijuana.

In 2013 in Jurupa Valley, then-school board member Brian Schafer 
lobbied his colleagues to open an elementary school's back gate so 
kids could meet waiting parents without passing two marijuana 
dispensaries and a liquor store.

Schafer said he doesn't oppose medical marijuana for ill people who 
need it. But people visiting the Jurupa Valley dispensaries would 
park across the street and sit there, he said.

"You could smell that they were smoking inside the cars and the kids 
had to walk right by that," said Schafer, who lost the Nov. 4 election.

Some observers see politics as a factor in local officials' 
anti-dispensary stance.

Though voters may support legalizing marijuana, "There's a big 
difference between voters and elected officials," said Mark Kleiman, 
a public policy professor at UCLA who has written several books on drug policy.

No one running for office wants the sheriff or district attorney 
standing with an opponent and saying the candidate is "soft on 
drugs," Kleiman said.

Several officials and analysts said dispensaries might be more 
palatable if they lived up to the ideal that some proponents 
intended: a collective run by and for a small group of patients, with 
those who can grow a small number of plants sharing with those who can't.

Instead, critics say, some facilities are major commercial 
enterprises that indiscriminately provide pot to any customer with 
money and a flimsy health complaint.

"Does anyone really believe that the medical marijuana system that we 
have in California is not simply a criminal enterprise under legal 
cover?" UCR's Parker asked.

Medical marijuana supporters say regulations could address concerns 
about dispensary location, age of customers and other issues.

De Aguilera, the attorney for dispensaries, said that with the right 
rules, cities could require facilities to open their books and could 
shutter problem operators.

"The cities can craft their regulations to limit the number of 
members in the collective, to limit the kinds of illnesses that can 
be treated," he said.

Some city officials feel caught between the ongoing conflict between 
state and federal law, what some see as abuse of the current system, 
and a lack of clear and widespread rules for dispensaries. Under 
those circumstances, some officials would rather not have the 
facilities at all.

Lauritzen, the Jurupa Valley councilman, considers dispensary 
activity "very untrackable."

"It cannot be monitored, and so anybody can end up with medical marijuana."

Most officials said they're not opposed to medical use of pot for 
those who need it, and they'd support the concept if marijuana was 
dispensed at pharmacies like other prescribed drugs.

"It does have some very good therapeutic benefits to a certain type 
of patient," said former Riverside County Supervisor Jeff Stone, a 
pharmacist and new state senator. "Not only do I believe that, the 
FDA believes that" as shown by its approval of Marinol, an oral 
medication that uses the active ingredient in marijuana.

But Stone said the loopholes in California law have been exploited to 
allow de facto recreational use, which he opposes.

"We have enough problems with alcohol and DUIs," he said.


Inland officials who oppose dispensaries may have to fight on 
indefinitely because it's unknown how a 2016 ballot measure to 
legalize pot might change the equation.

"The problem with initiatives is they're not well crafted and they 
leave a lot of ... gray areas of interpretation," Stone said.

Parker, the UCR researcher, said legalization could bring a new set 
of concerns, such as the long-term effects of marijuana on memory and 
young people's brain development. He said popular support for 
marijuana forces elected officials to decide whether to do what 
polling says voters want, or do the opposite if they think it's in 
voters' best interests.

Stone said if California voters approve legalization, he would have 
to comply with their wishes. He's taken an oath to uphold the law 
even if he doesn't like it.

"That is a dilemma a lot of elected officials have to face."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom