San Jacinto Council hears passionate marijuana ordinance debate

San Jacinto Mayor Scott Miller reads a proclamation declaring the cities recognition of the May Mental Health Month. The proclamation was presented to a Riverside County Mental Health Department representative during the council meeting. Tony Ault photo
San Jacinto Mayor Scott Miller reads a proclamation declaring the cities recognition of the May Mental Health Month. The proclamation was presented to a Riverside County Mental Health Department representative during the council meeting. Tony Ault photo

The San Jacinto City Council meeting April 4 in a public hearing on a proposed marijuana cultivation ordinance brought strong emotional debate between marijuana cultivators, those opposed and a member of the city council.

The continued public hearing on Ordinance 17-02 that is meant to regulate the establishment of commercial marijuana cultivation in the light industrial zone of the city has been an emotional issue before the council since the passage of Proposition 64. Proposition 64 allows the limited cultivation and use of recreational marijuana.

Cities like San Jacinto under the statewide proposition are permitted to make their own rules on the cultivation of marijuana, its distribution and sales outside of the permitted cultivation of six plants in private residences.

Growers of medical marijuana, which has been legal in the state for several years, yet prohibited by federal law, quickly sought out new locations for their farms and distribution centers throughout the state arguing the cities and counties could greatly benefit with new permit revenues as demand grew.

San Jacinto is no exception, but the city sought to maintain control on the drug’s cultivation and distribution through ordinance while remaining in abeyance to Prop 64. The amended ordinance and amendments have been at issue for weeks that basically would allow medical marijuana cultivation in limited parts of the city away from schools, parks, day care centers and close to private residences.

Tuesday night was no exception with 10 residents strongly voicing their strong and emotional objections to the ordinance and half dozen residents wanting it approved and expanded.

Those opposed to allowing any form of cultivation of marijuana in the city argued that marijuana was a “gateway” drug and its cultivation and sale would bring serious criminal and health problems to the community.

One proponent, Wayne Magnolia, a local developer seeking the OK to allow medical marijuana cultivation in the city, argued that the residents who were opposed to allowing cultivation were the victims of misinformation. In his presentation, Magnolia accused many of the opponents of being uninformed about the positive effects of marijuana, and he mentioned Councilman Alonzo Ledezma who approached him before the meeting and was claiming that Colorado, who permits the public sale of medical marijuana, was plagued by crime and other problems because of it.

Magnolia, although warned several times by Mayor Scott Miller to address the council with his passionate comments and not the audience, suggested that some members of the council were pushing “false rhetoric and lies” about Colorado by saying that it was “riddled with crime.” He went on to say that one of the councilmen had also asked him, “What’s in it for me?”

He was told his three minutes were up and to leave the podium.

As the next speaker began her comment in favor of the ordinance, Ledezma, a strong opponent of marijuana cultivation in the city, suddenly stood up from his seat at the dais, briskly walked over to Magnolia and began confronting him face to face about his accusations. Mayor Miller told the angered councilman to immediately return to his seat. Ledezma at first refused and said, “This is personal.” But with the strong urging of the other council members and staff, he returned to his seat on the dais.

Mayor Miller called a short break and returned to the dais.

“This is America, and both can take positions on whatever is important to them,” Miller said. “I understand that there is passion on both sides of the aisle on this subject, but if we can’t figure out how to have this kind of discourse and conversation in America then what do we have left. This is a public forum for people to speak about what is important to them on this subject. There is nothing wrong with coming forward and being passionate when they speak. … Please refrain from escalating any type of activity such as we have seen here tonight.”

Ledezma later said, “I would like to apologize to the speaker and to all you.” But he noted, “Please, do not accuse me of something you are not sure.”

As the public comment ended, the council set to review the amended ordinance as presented. Councilman Andrew Kotyuk began leafing through the ordinance and questioned a number of items about the square-footage of marijuana grows and other things. Councilman Ruiz, in turn, read off a list of line items in the ordinance she questioned, leading Miller to call for a vote to table the ordinance discussion until staff had a chance to look at the many line item changes that were being suggested.

The discussion on the amended ordinance was tabled.

Earlier in the meeting, the city council presented proclamation recognizing that May is Mental Health Month. The proclamation was presented to a local Mental Health provider attending the meeting.

City Manager Rob Johnson won the approval from the council to hire a deputy city manager. The new deputy city manager will handle information technology and will be an executive coordinator in the next fiscal year, helping the city manager bring more industry and commercial projects to the city. The council voted to approve his request 4 to 1 with Councilman Kotyuk voting “no.”

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