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Marijuana dispensary issue still in limbo
Local government holds its ground on collectives
Medical marijuana patients in the Victor Valley held their collective breath as the California Supreme Court heard arguments this week on whether local governments can ban retail pot dispensaries.
“The government just needs to leave this whole marijuana issue alone,” said Virgil Pedersen, 72, a new medical marijuana card holder from Victorville. “I got the card because regular drugs weren’t doing a thing for my back pain.”
Card holders and dispensary owners across the state must wait at least 90 days before the court renders its decision on how much legal muscle local governments can use against dispensaries. The court heard arguments Tuesday.
Most local dispensary operators and clients would not comment on the issue, but card holder Reggie Savelle said he is waiting for the court’s decision before trying to open a shop in Phelan.
“I don’t want to dish out a bunch of cash on my business and then get shut down,” Savelle said. “I’ve heard too many horror stories about code enforcement busts on legal places.”
Proposition 215 gave patients the legal right to use medical marijuana when it was passed by voters in 1996, but many municipalities and counties have outlawed pot dispensaries with strict regulations.
Nearly 30 marijuana dispensaries in the Victor Valley have closed over the past three years, as aggressive efforts by local officials have been successful in pushing businesses out of town. The city of Hesperia, for example, has shut down 20 collectives since 2005.
“It’s been a slow process, but we finally accomplished our goal,” Hesperia Mayor Pro Tem Thurston “Smitty” Smith said, after the owners of the High Desert Compassionate Collective were evicted in October.
Dispensaries in Hesperia were closed once the city began its code enforcement process, which fined business owners and landlords $1,500 a day, Councilman Russ Blewett said.
“There is currently one dispensary operating illegally and we are taking the necessary actions to close them down,” said Adelanto City Manager James Hart. “We had only one other dispensary and we closed them down last year.”
Hart said Adelanto does not allow dispensaries in the city under any circumstance, because they are considered illegal.
Trojan Wellness owners Carrie Erskine and Sandy McKay are facing an uncertain future after the town of Apple Valley began citing their landlord $500 a day for allowing the dispensary to operate. After opening in November, they are one of four dispensaries in Apple Valley.
Backed by its development code, Apple Valley is currently citing property owners who are leasing storefronts to dispensaries, town officials said.
Victorville is home to 11 dispensaries, according to Code Enforcement Manager Jorge Duran. The city of Victorville does not issue business licenses to collectives, and Duran said his team has shuttered four collectives in the past two years.
“The city of Victorville has a ban against dispensaries, so we do not issue business licenses for them, making them illegal businesses,” City Manager Doug Robertson said. “We are pursuing them through code enforcement and are looking forward to having a final resolution from the California Supreme Court on the legality of dispensary bans in a few months.”
More than 175 cities and at least 20 counties have banned retail marijuana shops, according to “Americans For Safe Access,” an organization that supports medical marijuana use, which said the ban has rendered Proposition 215 meaningless.
In 2010, the California Court of Appeals invalidated a ban on dispensaries in Los Angeles County. The court ruled that medical marijuana dispensaries are protected under state law.
The League of California Cities advised its members not to take aggressive actions on medical marijuana dispensaries until the Supreme Court makes a ruling because legal fees could be wasted .
Rene De La Cruz may be reached at (760) 951-6227 or at RDeLa-Cruz@VVDailyPress.com.
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