Cannabis dispensaries still prohibited in San Jacinto

The San Jacinto City Council asks members of the Daisy Girl Scout Troop to lead the Pledge of Allegiance before the city council meeting, Oct. 17. Standing behind them from the left are Mayor Pro Tem Alonzo Ledezma, Councilman Russ Utz, Councilwoman Crystal Ruiz, Mayor Scott Miller and Councilman Andrew Kotyuk. Courtesy photo

Although the San Jacinto City Council has voted to permit 16 marijuana growers to begin operations in the city, it upheld its current ordinances to prohibit marijuana dispensaries from opening and dismissed a request to allow cannabis testing laboratories in the city at the Oct. 17 city council meeting.

The request to open cannabis dispensaries and testing labs came to city by the growers and was presented to City Manager Rob Johnson and staff. Mayor Scott Miller asked Johnson to provide staff’s opinion and to bring it back to the council at its next meeting. Johnson did so at the council meeting Tuesday for additional direction. Before discussions began, City Councilman Andrew Kotyuk, who has voted in favor of cannabis cultivation in the city, dismissed himself from the discussion due to other obligations.

Mayor Scott Miller called for public comment on the latest cannabis related issues and found more than 20 people seeking to voice their opinions. While several residents and growers urged the council to amend the prohibition on dispensaries, citing their medicinal needs, the majority of speakers, some speaking only in Spanish with an interpreter, were against the request.

First to appear was Therese Steadman, owner of Curry Copy Center in Hemet, who outlined problems their business has had with an illegal dispensary in their shopping center.

“It is not safe and shouldn’t be considered,” Steadman said.

Christopher Henry from the Southern California Cannabis Chamber of Commerce appeared, speaking in favor of opening dispensaries in the city. He said there were two storefronts operating in the city with no tax revenue generated and no regulations enforced.

“The goal of the council should be to implement responsible regulations…legal dispensaries are the way to go,” Henry said.

He said that a study showed that 35 percent of all Californians had smoked or used marijuana in the past 30 days. This statement brought a murmur from the large crowd attending.

Michelle Ellen, a cancer survivor, said the cannabis plant should be seen as a “medical marvel,” and dispensaries should be allowed.

Chuck Steadman, a former Hemet police sergeant, said he had seen many motorists who had been cited or involved in serious traffic accidents for driving “buzzed” on marijuana and other drugs.

“They are a danger to the residents of the community,” Chuck Steadman said. Citing his belief that marijuana is a “gateway drug,” he urged “opposition to the legalization of cannabis in your fine city.”

After the public comment session, Councilman Russ Utz urged the city to lift ordinances prohibiting the cannabis dispensaries.

“I would like to see us move forward on this,” Utz said. He said legal dispensaries, if approved, would most likely make the illegal ones in the community and related crimes disappear. The regulations would bring enough tax money to continue the programs that educate children the dangers of drug use. He voted to delete the cannabis prohibition ordinance and work on a new one legalizing them.

Mayor Miller said he did not understand the connection that “legalizing it (cannabis) lowers our crime. I just don’t understand the connection with that. I don’t understand how regulation lowers crime.” He noted that only law-abiding citizens obey the law.

He said that cannabis may have its place in society, but the federal government “needs to get their act together to figure out how to use cannabis just like you use other drugs, so you go to the pharmacy, so you don’t go to the local dude.” He voted to uphold the current cannabis dispensary prohibition in the city.

Mayor Pro Tem Alonzo Ledezma said he felt badly that the city approved the 16 cannabis cultivation permits, although he voted to allow the first permits. He said he learned about the cultivation of cannabis from the growers and its value, but he was afraid the city had “opened its gates” to more and more growers.

“I asked the council to stop this thing right now, whether to just one, two or three or whatever the combination is going to be, so the city can move on,” Ledezma said. He voted to keep the current prohibition on dispensaries in place.

Councilwoman Crystal Ruiz said she was “a little irritated” with the evening because “one of the councilman led us down this path” and had chosen not to stay for the discussion on dispensaries and testing facilities.

She said her studies showed that Colorado and other states that had approved the use and sale of marijuana have not made the revenue expected from the growers and dispensaries and how the crime rate is still going up. She chose to affirm the city’s cannabis dispensaries prohibition and end any more council action on the issue.

The discussion on whether or not to allow cannabis testing facilities in the city brought similar comments, but a motion for approval was tabled due to a 2-2 vote of the council. Utz and Ruiz wanted the city staff to create an ordinance to allow cannabis testing facilities, while Mayor Miller and Ledezma were against the request. The motion died as a result.

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