Thursday, March 30, 2017

• City Council Special Meeting Prop 64 Workshop

This meeting was dealing with the future of medical marijuana dispensaries, private and commercial cultivation and recreational marijuana dispensaries in Wildomar.

Thinking this was going to be an overflow crowd I showed up 50 minutes early to get my usual seat. Then about 10 minutes went by and the next person to show up was regular Kenny Mayes, followed by the self stylized "President of Wildomar" Ryan Filar.

We all watched the clock tick off the minutes and there still wasn't another soul there even at 6:15pm, fifteen minutes till show time. 

Finally people started trickling in, and by the start of the meeting there might have been 75% of the seats filled. A far cry from when this issue came before the council back in 2010.

Comparing the crowd at this special meeting to the crowd at the recent community meeting at Sycamore Academy, about a proposed town home development, tells me that most people are not opposed to marijuana dispensaries in town any more, and as you get deeper into the blog, you'll hear some of the council members remark on it. 

Of that, a large contingent was from outside of Wildomar, there to participate in what was originally billed as a workshop. Though it was actually a standard city council meeting. 
The crux of the meeting was about deciding whether or not to prohibit or regulate marijuana.

There was a lengthy presentation by Stephen McEwen, working on marijuana issues for about nine years for various cities throughout California, starting with Laguna Woods back in 2008. He outlined the rest of his resume in the opening parts of the video I've included. 

His presentation was very informative, starting with the basics of Prop 64. 
• Was approved by the voters on November 8th, 2016. It legalizes the non medical use of marijuana, by people 21 years of age and over.
• Legalizes personal cultivation of up to six marijuana plants.

Some of his comments that I noted include:
• Prop 64 preserves local control over marijuana businesses. It allows cities to make decisions as to what land uses they think are appropriate.
• Prop 64 took effect on November 8th [2016]. This is not a situation where it's going to take effect at some point in the future. It's in effect right now.

Personal Use
• 21 years of age or older, is the basic limitation.
• [It's] legal under both state and local law to possess, process, transport, purchase, obtain, or give away 28.5 grams of non concentrated cannabis, or 8 grams of concentrated cannabis.
• It is lawful, under state and local law, for individuals 21 years of age or older to smoke or ingest marijuana or marijuana products.

Exceptions to Prop 64
• No smoking or ingesting marijuana in a public place.
• No smoking marijuana where smoking tobacco is prohibited.
• No smoking marijuana near 1000 feet of a school, daycare or youth center while children are present.

State Licensing
• All non medical marijuana businesses must have a state license. 
• The licenses are only good for one year. 
• A state license cannot be issued to any applicant whose operation would violate the provision on any local ordinance.
• You can't prohibit the use of public roads for the transportation or delivery of marijuana through your city. You can prohibit marijuana deliveries from either originating or terminating in the city.
The two options came down to "should we?" or "shouldn't we?"

Federal Issues

• It's a big unknown at this point. It is still a crime under federal law to operate a marijuana establishment, as it is still listed as a Schedule 1 Substance that is illegal for all purposes under federal law. Regardless what the state says regarding marijuana establishments, it will remain illegal under federal law. 

• We have a new presidential administration that seems to be giving hints that it's going to take a different strategy with regards to legal recreational marijuana in the eight states that have [legalized it]. 

"My best guess is that the federal government will probably not touch medical marijuana, but I think it's 50-50 whether they do something with regard to recreational marijuana."

• Generally speaking, this is an all cash business and that's because under federal money laundering laws, it's a crime to channel funds from a drug trafficking activity to the banking system.

Cultivation
• Under Prop 64 the city cannot prohibit indoor cultivation  (up to six plants). More than six plants they will be subject to the state licensing requirements.
• The city can prohibit outdoor cultivation.
• The people that are cultivating [more than six plants] will have to get state licenses, and they may also run themselves into legal trouble if they cultivate too much, or if they're distributing.

Deliveries
• Nothing in Prop 64 suggests that a city can't prohibit a dispensary from delivering in the city.

• Some cities have prohibited recreational marijuana deliveries while allowing deliveries of medical marijuana.
•          •          •

Questions from the council to Stephen McEwen included issues of zoning for growing by Marsha Swanson. A follow up question was:

"Is there anything we can do with the ones that are currently growing here?"

"Currently growing? Well, they'd be in violation of local existing zoning ordinance. It would be a matter of council direction whether they want those places to shut down until the city has made a decision. There's a moratorium right now against any cultivation with the exception of the indoor six plants or less."

Councilmember Dustin Nigg made a comment regarding enforcement, "Based on the way that it's written, that we can't restrict the use of public roads, can we realistically enforce 'no delivery'?"

"I think it would be challenging," was the answer from Mr. McEwen.

A particularly salient point from Stephen McEwen was about taxing marijuana. 

When these [marijuana] laws were being promoted... one of the big lures was taxes. I've often heard people come to city council meetings and say, "Let's allow them, and really tax the heck out of them and make a ton of money."

The problem is that if you tax something like marijuana, when you're trying to bring it out of the black market, [if] you put the tax to high, it will have the effect of pushing it back into the black market.

Mr. McEwan's time in front of the council finished up by answering some questions about taxation. For those details, check out the video.


Public Comments
I counted 12 people that spoke in front of the council. I'll list them in order and use red or green colored fonts as to their position.

Ryan Filar, Ken Mayes, Ian Armstrong, Gina Castanon, Terry Wilson, Brent BermannVeronica Langworthy, Steven Rubell, Kristin West, Bill Kaufman, Arnold Mathias, Michael Johnson and Toni Russo.

Something that has to be said about that sea of green above is that most of those people don't live in Wildomar, and many are from quite a long distance from here.

It was pretty obvious that Big Weed got the word out, and packed the house. That said, there was hardly a peep from the prohibition crowd. 

There were some emails that were sent in that were against legalizing dispensaries, but it's not as if they were deluged with them. I counted five against and four in favor... that from a city of 35,000 people.

If you watch the video, you'll see how well prepared the pro side was. Even the guy that couldn't find a comb made some solid points for creating ordinances that would allow and regulate marijuana businesses.

The most compelling public speaker was Toni Russo, mother of a daughter that survived a near drowning incident when she was a toddler and now lives on a ventilator. She talked about an oil that is derived from cannabis that has helped with her daughter's seizures. 

Council Comments

This part of the meeting got a little heated at one point. Mayor Tim Walker allowed the audience to get under his skin as he shushed them and said, "We already had public comments, this is about us now, we're talking among ourselves, we're giving you our advice..."  
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Just like I'd give the disclaimer that I've never tried marijuana, I'll also give the disclaimer that I like Tim Walker and think he does a good job representing the city. 

That said, when someone goes off the rails a bit, and I allow personal feelings to interfere with this blog, especially on a weighty issue like this one, that's the day I have to chuck it all in.

For about seven minutes he spelled out his thoughts and feelings on the issue of dispensaries in Wildomar. 

This is textbook level stuff on why council members are counseled to NOT get into exchanges with the audience.

Meetings like this have always brought out people that try to goad officials into reactions. Couple that with the way recent congressional "town halls" have brought out people intent on disrupting them, and one would have thought that a pre-meeting strategy would have been gone over, urging the members to maintain their integrity, literally biting their tongue if necessary, and to not take any bait set out by the audience.

I'm going to transcribe the highlights of each council member. I urge you to watch the first several minutes of the video, even if you don't want to watch the entire 35 minutes. Though I personally like the mayor, this has to be shared.

Mayor Tim Walker comments
• [About a dispensary] opening up in our city. I got elected on that in 2010, whether people like it or not, that's what I got elected on, to stop the dispensary that was coming. 

• They are already delivering it into our city, why would I care? I honestly don't care. Medical marijuana? I'm not involved; it's not my problem. That people need it, that's great, and I can see the benefits, I've heard about the benefits. So my personal opinion is, as far as a dispensary store in our city, I'm not for it. I never will be for it. 

• ...if you have a medical marijuana dispensary in your town, I don't think it's necessary. There's enough of them right around us, there's some in Elsinore, there's some on Grand Avenue. They're all over the place already. They're already opened.
From the crowd two people remarked, "They're illegal."
It has nothing to do with me. I'm not sitting in those cities. I'm sitting in this city.

• [A]s far as a storefront in our city, I'm against it. It's just that simple. That's where I stand, and until the feds change the rule, and it's not a class 1, and the congress decides to change that rule, then that's great, then we (the council) can vote on that. 
The point about "the feds" is a legit point, as mentioned by Stephen McEwen in the first part of the meeting.

I think this kind of an issue, for the city to think because 52% of the people [voted in favor of Prop 64, they should approve it], no, I think it should be more like taxes. If you're going to set up here, and change something this drastically in our city, it should be a 66% vote. 
Tim, I get that, but elected officials, especially on the city level, are there to guide the city with the existing laws. Though you may feel that it should be a 66% vote, doesn't negate state law on the matter. It only takes a simple majority, no matter how that might not sit well with you.

• Medical marijuana, I've never had a problem with it. It's not about me, it's about her (pointing to Toni Russo's daughter) and it's about the patients that need it. Whether I agree with it or not has nothing to do with anything. Just in our city, dispensaries are a negative. 

• (While discussing a dispensary that tried to come in illegally on Clinton Keith) [E]verybody says, "You need to regulate." No, we don't need to regulate. It already comes into the city. It already can come into the city with drivers. Why do we need to add that to something else the city of Wildomar needs to deal with, and have money going out of our pockets to try to deal with all those [issues]?
From the crowd, "Because you won't get any taxes."
Hey, listen, we already talked about that.

• I don't see the benefit, for my constituents, that live in this city. If we're going to make this kind of drastic move, then it needs to be the 66% vote, and it needs to be a city election in order to do it. That's my personal opinion. I think that would be more applicable than us five people deciding what we're going to do or not.
I wholeheartedly agree that it should be on the November ballot. The thing is, it will only take a 50% plus one to make it happen. That will be the time to put a pot tax on the ballot too, but if you make it a special tax, that will require a 66% vote, an amount difficult to attain. Wouldn't it be a shame if we inadvertently voted down an increase to city revenues due to shortsightedness?

• It doesn't say anywhere in that law that we have to allow a dispensary in our city. We have the right to stop the dispensaries. That's the issue with me. Whether 53% [voted for Prop 64 or not], we'll put it back on the ballot, and say "Ok folks, you want a dispensary? You come up and put your name on the line, if you get over 50%, then you can have a dispensary in your town.
This is a good idea, and I think that such a thing should be the main focus of the council on the issue of dispensaries in Wildomar.

At this point the audience applauded his suggestion of a ballot measure, which seemed to rattle him a bit. I'll pick back up where he starts addressing them.

• You can shake your head all you want back there, because I know who you are. Just keep shaking your head, because now I'm getting irritated because I have to see it. Unfortunately, I wish there was a blank curtain for you to sit [behind], and I wouldn't have to see what you're saying or doing.
This brought the audience to life, with chants of "open government" among other things.

This is where Mayor Pro-Tem Ben Benoit took the reins.

Mayor Pro-Tem Ben Benoit comments
• Tim mentioned the fact that seven years ago this was a very different environment, when we got elected. Things have changed a lot as I look at this. The amount of people that showed up for that meeting, for my planning commission meeting, and the city council meeting after that, were almost 100, if not more. I'm looking at how many showed up tonight and it's amazing, the difference.   

• Six years ago when this was voted on by the public, it was on medical marijuana, and it failed in this city. Now here we are, years later, and recreational use passed. I believe those are very big differences, and things we can't just ignore as elected officials for this city.

• I'm firmly [on the] side that we need to go down that path [to a ballot measure], we need to have those discussions, and I'd hope we could have more decorum and not go into shouting matches in the future. Because that doesn't get us anywhere, we need to have discussions about this.
At this, the crowd began to applaud, but Benoit admonished them:
Hold on, ladies and gentlemen, when I'm mayor I don't allow that, and I don't think we should. If you want to say "that" (he gave a double thumbs up) ok great, but we don't need the outbursts and we don't need the yelling and screaming, thank you.

Marsha Swanson comments
• I'm willing to look at it, I'm willing to see how it will look. It's just a lot to take in all in one night.  

• Nobody wants to stop the medical use... but you seem to be able to get what you need already.  I'm not where Tim is, and I'm not where Ben is, I'm somewhere in the middle.

• I'd like to see us compared to other cities our size, if they're in another state or wherever, and the cost to us. If we have to put something on the ballot that's going to cost us. 

Dustin Nigg comments
• I'll preface this with I've never tried marijuana, I've never smoked it, chewed it, eaten it, whatever. I wouldn't know how to grow it. I made a bunch of notes, I'll just go down them real quick:

  1. I agree with one of the comments that it's easier to marijuana right now than it is to get beer or cigarettes (if you're a minor).
  2. It's been illegal and people have still done it. 
  3. The voters approved it.
  4. I'm more in favor of treating marijuana like alcohol and cigarettes. It's here already. 
  5. I have three daughters, I'd rather it be harder for them to get [by regulating it].
Bridgette Moore comments
• (Referencing something Councilmember Nigg had brought earlier) Actually I'm not for a subcommittee, I think it's too important, I think all five of us need to be there. 

• When I was mayor in 2010 this came up on the agenda, and at that time the residents were not for it —the majority of the residents were not for it. But I agree with Ben that the tide is changing, and it's something that we can look further into. It doesn't mean we're saying "yes" it just says we're looking into all the different information. I'm still concerned with the federal issues. I think we have a lot more questions still... we need more workshops.

• (Responding to councilmember Swanson) Having an ordinance can say how many [dispensaries are allowed], what the taxes are going to be, put it on the ballot and let the voters decide. 
I agree that there are a lot more questions still to be asked and answered. However, now that the offer —even the very mention— of a ballot measure has been brought up... that's what needs to come.


The way I see it is this. Anyone that has done some research on the legality of marijuana/cannabis knows that it only became illegal with the passage of the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, which came with some very dubious reasoning behind it.

If you're unaware of the history, check out this link at drugpolicy.org.

The drug has ALWAYS been here, and now that it's legal, it's REALLY here. 

Allow me to make an analogy. 

Instead of marijuana being the issue, let's say it's speeding in cars. We hate speeders (when it isn't us) and so we try to construct laws (that get ignored) to try and curb it. 

We want to ban cars altogether, because if there are no cars, there can't be any speeders either. Thing is, we don't have the authority to ban cars, so now we look to ban things associated with cars. We ban auto dealerships (oops, we don't have any of those here. So let's say 'gas stations' instead), auto repair shops, and tire shops.

That'll teach those speeders (weed users). Oh wait, no it won't. They'll just go to another city and get their weekly fill up on gas, and periodic maintenance done in another city (buy their product and paraphernalia),and leave the commerce and tax dollars there too.

It's folly of the first order to try and tell law abiding adults what they can and cannot do on this level. If you don't like it, by all means, don't use it. That policy has worked like a charm for me since day one that I implemented it.

Look for this to be coming back to the council in the form of another special meeting in the not too distant future. 

There was some talk about an existing dispensary on Clinton Keith (which was in a previous blog: link to it). I went past it the other day and it sure appeared to be shuttered, as the sign looked to have been scraped off.

•          •          •

"In the last analysis, our only freedom is the freedom to discipline ourselves."
Bernard Baruch 1870-1965

Wildomar Rap is all about self discipline, but draws the line at hair shirts and self-flagellation.

4 comments:

  1. Because Marijuana use was legalized in California, local people who protested last time it came up have basically given up. While I don't have an issue with personal use, dispensaries bring crime and problems. I saw it firsthand when a dispensary moved in next to my business a few years ago. I don't think it's a good idea to allow dispensaries, but if it happens, they need to be taxed to cover expenses the city will incur for law enforcement and bonded to cover damages and to ensure they are being run by responsible proprietors.

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    1. I don't want businesses that will bring down an area either. If they are going to come into town, then I'd like to see regulations/ordinances that will require them to be respectable (not sure how that's done). There is a corner market (liquor store) across from the post office, and it is rather seedy looking. That is what a lot of us picture when we hear "pot shop" and we definitely don't need that type of thing.

      If they can come in and not bring in an undesirable element, then it would be hard to argue against them.

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  2. Interesting tidbits about the last time this came before the city. Found some news articles that state "The hearing, the only one on the commission's (planning commission) agenda, attracted a standing-room-only crowd of more than 60 people jammed into City Hall's council chamber. This is after an earlier meeting was postponed. At that time there were 19 speakers in opposition, 12 in support. At that time council chambers were upstairs in a room.

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    Replies
    1. Another reason why streaming meetings would be good is for the archival aspects. I don't know that I'd sit and watch the entire meeting you mentioned, but I'd love to be able to at least look at bits of it.

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