OC Cities Celebrate International Cannabis Day by Banning Pot Clubs

OC Cities Celebrate International Cannabis Day by Banning Pot Clubs
Mary Carreon

California is gearing up for legalized recreational marijuana come New Year's Day 2018, but for most Orange County municipalities, that deadline is hardly being celebrated. Instead, many cities have either already banned cannabis dispensaries or are in the process of doing so. As of now, Santa Ana and Long Beach are the only local places to permit medical-cannabis dispensaries to operate, but they are likely to implement regulations allowing for the sale of recreational cannabis. Meanwhile, cities such as Anaheim, Garden Grove and Laguna Beach are working on reinstating their bans.

Stanton is just the latest in OC to crack down—again—on cannabis clubs. At 4:20 p.m. on April 25, nearly 60 demonstrators gathered just south of Magnolia on Katella Avenue in front of Green Tree Remedy, a dispensary the city shut down on April 20, the so-called international day of weed. The protesters—mostly patients and employees of the dispensary—held up colorful signs reading, "Dispensaries Are Not Dealers" and, "Cannabis Treats My PTSD." Cars driving on Katella honked in support of their cause as the group marched toward Stanton City Hall.

The Stanton City Council is solidly anti-cannabis. It views medical-marijuana clinics as a nuisance and would rather people travel to other cities to get medication, even if those dispensaries are illegal. According to a press release drafted by the city, law enforcement raided the dispensary because it wanted to send a "clear message of zero tolerance for illegal businesses." The release also stated that Green Tree Remedy was operating without a business license; Orange County cannabis attorney Matthew Pappas claims the dispensary has applied and reapplied for a business license, and it has been repeatedly denied.

Pappas' law office submitted a completed ballot initiative, including more than 3,000 collected signatures, to the city of Stanton in early April. Soon after, Green Tree Remedy was raided, with 70.8 pounds of cannabis seized and extensive damage done to the facility, including a small grow operation in the back of the building.

Demonstrators gathered in front of City Hall as Bob Marley's "I Shot the Sheriff" and "Everything's Going to be Alright" played over a Bluetooth speaker. Promptly at 6:30 p.m., demonstrators flooded the council chambers, filling every available seat and standing in the back. David Finer, a Stanton resident, was one of the first to speak during public comments. "There are tons of collectives in the city, so why only shut down one?" he asked. "And of all the ones to shut down, you guys shut down the biggest one. . . . There's really no reason to get rid of a dispensary that's bringing in money to your city. Why wouldn't you want that revenue going to the different programs that you've talked about?"

That same night in Anaheim, the City Council there adopted a draconian ordinance to ensure no legal cannabis businesses or outdoor cultivation operations occur within the city. But this is nothing new for the home to the Happiest Place On Earth: From the time medical-marijuana dispensaries arrived in Orange County, Anaheim has taken the position that all such operations are detrimental to the public health, safety and welfare of residents.

According to the City Council Staff Report, Anaheim first banned dispensaries in 2007; the city was immediately sued as a result. The case hindered its ability to enforce the ban, causing the number of dispensaries to grow. With that, the number of complaints regarding dispensaries also increased. Then in 2011, the city implemented an urgent moratorium on dispensaries that lasted two years.

In 2013, Anaheim extended the prohibition to include delivery services. A year later, the California courts decided the city has the right to ban cannabis. Even when the state passed the Medical Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act (MCRSA) in 2015, the city forbade the cultivation and processing of marijuana—two aspects the MCRSA addresses that Anaheim's original prohibition didn't cover.

With the application of Proposition 64 on the horizon, Anaheim has taken further steps: The cultivation, possession, manufacturing, distribution, processing, storing, laboratory testing, labeling, transporting, delivery, trade or sale of marijuana is now banned. The proposed ordinance also prohibits the outdoor cultivation of marijuana, which would include any activity involving the planting, growing, harvesting, drying, curing, grading, or trimming of the plant that is not within a fully enclosed and secure structure, according to the city's Agenda Report.

Councilwoman Kris Murray claimed kids with skateboards go in and out of dispensaries, insinuating the city's youth is participating in drug use and causing problems.

"This is more of a moratorium than a permanent ordinance," noted Mayor Tom Tait, five hours into the meeting. The council voted 7-0 to introduce it.

But Anaheim isn't the only city to ban cannabis outright. On April 11, Laguna Beach passed a law prohibiting dispensaries, commercial cultivation and outdoor growing in response to Prop. 64. You can, however, grow a maximum of six plants for personal use inside private, locked homes as long as they can't be seen from the outside. This follows last November's failed ballot initiative that would've allowed two medical-cannabis dispensaries.

Garden Grove is another city that's teeter-tottering on the issue. On April 20, the planning commission met to discuss repealing the current ban on cannabis.

Last November, voters in Costa Mesa were faced with three different cannabis-related initiatives; of them, Measure X won, allowing for the testing, manufacturing, distribution, processing, and research and development of medical marijuana. The city doesn't allow for the cultivation or retail sale of medical cannabis—yet, anyway. But as of April 18, the Costa Mesa City Council decided anyone planning to open a business that aligns with Measure X will have to acquire a medical-marijuana business permit, which is said to cost $21,525, as well as a conditional-use permit that'll cost $27,508 and require approval from the Costa Mesa Planning Commission.

Orange County doesn't make it easy for patients to have safe or convenient access to medical cannabis—even in cities such as Stanton, where 22 percent of residents signed a petition for the implementation of a legalization ordinance. "Medical marijuana has been [in Orange County] since 1996," says Jennifer McGrath, an Orange County cannabis attorney. "And in fact, under [Prop. 64], it's assuredly not going anywhere. . . . Not dealing with it or avoiding implementing it into your city is not the answer."


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