Cannabis codes amended by San Jacinto City Council allowing limited dispensaries

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This ‘No on Marijuana’ sign pops up from the audience attending the June 4 San Jacinto City Council meeting on amending the city’s cannabis municipal code that now allows limited dispensaries. Tony Ault photo

A long series of amendments to San Jacinto’s Municipal Code for Cannabis Oriented Businesses and Uses made by the city council brought more than a dozen residents, for and against the measures, to the podium at a late walkout by Councilman Alonso Ledezma Tuesday, June 4.

The council after hearing local residents and cannabis business owners’ comment on the proposed amendments took almost two hours discussing the changes, mostly in the cannabis dispensary portion of the municipal code, ended with a motion to approve the amendments with a 3-2 vote. Particularly struggling with her decision was Councilwoman Crystal Ruiz who had numerous questions about the cities’ proposed amendments that did not place a numerical limit on the number of dispensaries that might be allowed under the proposed revised state laws, which was tabled as Senate Bill 1356.

She was assured by City Manager Rob Johnson and city staff that even though the amendments did not specify the numbers of dispensaries that might be permitted, the city’s land use policies, required permits and building codes and their high costs would restrict the number of dispensaries allowed.

Johnson said that the cost of opening a legal cannabis business with everything from grows to dispensaries will cost between $1 and $10 million, explaining why the city has no cannabis businesses open at this time, although a small number of permits have been issued.

With that Ruiz joined Mayor Russ Utz and Mayor Pro Tem Andrew Kotyuk in voting “Yes” for the proposed cannabis municipal code amendments. Councilman Joseph Lopez voted “No” with no comment, but Councilman Ledezma, who asked to vote first, gave out a loud “No,” picked up his meeting materials and promptly left the council chambers.

Earlier in the meeting, after telling the gallery he was “ashamed” at his earlier vote, allowing all cannabis and marijuana businesses in the city, Ledezma asked City Attorney Michael Maurer if there was any way he could go back, almost two years ago that take back his vote on the cannabis issues. The attorney said the only way the city’s cannabis ordinances now in place could be changed is by new ordinances approved by the council after public hearings. Red-faced, Ledezma shook his head at the answer.

The council at its last meeting requested the city staff and attorney to review the cities cannabis municipal codes to comply with the continuously changing statewide cannabis cultivation, transportation, testing and dispensing laws made by the Legislature and still maintain some control over the commercial marijuana and cannabis businesses in the city, particularly dispensaries, the number and locations.

The state Legislature’s Senate Bill 1356 would have required cities across the state to allow licensing of one legal cannabis dispensary for every four licensed alcoholic beverage outlets in the city.

“Do you know how many licensed liquor stores we have in the city?” Ruiz asked with a frown. “Unacceptable.”

The council was informed that the bill was tabled earlier in the week.

“You know it’s going to come back,” Ruiz said, citing efforts by the state Legislature to maintain even greater government control over cities and counties across the state in every part of life.

Currently the city has hundreds of pages of rules, regulations, permit requirements and tax rates for legal cannabis businesses all designed to maintain local control over the number and locations of these businesses and recreational marijuana uses that are now being permitted by state law after Proposition 64 that was passed three years ago.

Kotyuk described the city council’s efforts to maintain local control over cannabis and the recreational use of marijuana as “being ahead of the game” with the possibility that soon the federal government may choose to lift its marijuana laws.

There were 14 members of the audience at the meeting who spoke for or against the proposed amendments. The San Jacinto Unified School District Superintendent Diane Perez, her administrators, principals and teachers all signed a letter to the council asking that no cannabis dispensaries be allowed in the city, noting that more and more of the districts students from elementary through high school are obtaining marijuana and cannabis looking like candy or from their parents causing illnesses and overdoses and even using it on campus.

“The safety of our children is our primary concern,” Ruiz said with agreement from the other councilmembers.

The majority of the resident speakers agreed children getting their hands on marijuana was dangerous, but they said they saw cannabis as a therapeutic medicine for many people but all wanted the illegal dispensaries and pushers out of the city. There were several signs held up by residents saying no to any marijuna or cannabis in the city.

Carla Adams who said she leads parent workshops and parent training told the council the majority of the parents who come to her are most concerned about their children using drugs.

“Drug use is the number one reason parents attend our parenting classes, and it is the No. 1 thing that is affecting families. Parents don’t know how to deal with it, how to take action,” Adams said. “By opening dispensaries and bringing them to our community or city, you’re just helping the problem. You’re not helping to bring the solution. Please bring us services and solutions that help, and opening dispensaries is not it.”

One of the city’s cannabis cultivation business applicants Richard Westlink told the council that he would not jeopardize his permits for any reason, and “Clearly not the safety of the children of this community.”

He said the ordinances are a funding element that will help increase the police department’s protection of the community by getting the illegal dispensaries out.

Dev Chakrabarty, whose family has been practicing medicine in the Valley for many years, told the council it would be better to have legal dispensaries in the city than to keep using the illegal online dispensaries that anyone can get and have them delivered to their home.

Others expressed their opinions to the council, some for and some against the dispensaries, for more than an hour before the final vote was taken.

Tony Ault can be reached by email at tault@reedermedia.com.