Unrest regarding marijuana ordinance leaves council members split
■ By Kyle Selby / Reporter
The San Jacinto City Council chambers were packed full once again Tuesday, May 2, as outdoor marijuana cultivation was the night’s central topic of discussion. The agenda item was previously requested to be readdressed by Mayor Scott Miller at the last meeting.
The ordinance to allow outdoor marijuana cultivation was approved by Council late last year. Essentially it would designate the agricultural area west of Sanderson and north of Cottonwood avenues as the area where medical marijuana could be grown (with appropriate permits), according to the City’s guidelines.
Out of 24 people who requested to speak publicly, 15 people spoke out against cannabis cultivation in the city of San Jacinto. A large majority of the opposition belonged to the Hispanic and Spanish-speaking community—most of whom brought their own translators. Their arguments were primarily of concern for their children, and what effects normalizing the cannabis industry might inflict on their futures.
Others claimed that they (as the citizens of San Jacinto) were unaware of the approval of the ordinance – and suggested that the council hang banners, posters, or send notification in the mail when they vote on an ordinance.
One of the final speakers, Julio Flores, approached the podium for an unexpected special request. Flores wanted to voice his comments in Spanish, hoping the rest of the attendees could understand his support of the ordinance. Mayor Miller initially denied Flores’ request, arguing that he should be addressing the Council and not the audience, but City Attorney Mike Maurer interjected and approved Flores’ request. Even so, the divisiveness persisted.
The city of San Jacinto has not accepted any permit applications yet, and Mayor Miller’s apprehensiveness to move forward with the already-approved ordinance was due to the fact that it did not go through the same process as its indoor counterpart.
“It went through a council vote on the dais; it did not go through a workshop,” he said. Instead of nullifying the ordinance, Miller wants a clear understanding of what and where this potential cash crop will be sprouting. The rest of the council added their input as well.
All eyes were on Mayor Pro Tem Alonso Ledezma after an incident a month prior left many San Jacinto residents unsettled. On April 4, during public comment, Ledezma abruptly abandoned his seat on the dais to aggressively confront a local cultivator standing on the other side of the room, while dozens of spectators watched in disbelief. Ledezma has been very vocal in his opposition toward marijuana ordinances since the state passed Prop. 64 last November, despite previously approving the ordinance himself.
“I was totally misled through this whole process,” explained Ledezma, who claims he didn’t understand what he was voting for. “So unfortunately I did approve an outdoor grow, but I will not be approving recreational [growth] and warehousing [facilities]. My decision is going to be always ‘no.’”
Also concerned about an increase in DUI’s, Ledezma and Councilwoman Crystal Ruiz – concerned about the city’s lack of law enforcement – sought expert advice.
“What I can say from a public safety standpoint is that all of the symptoms [of marijuana vs. alcohol] are different, but the effects are the same,” commented San Jacinto Police Chief John Salisbury. “The effect, when it’s ingested at an intoxicating level, is the same.”
While Salisbury did not have specific statistics of DUIs caused by marijuana consumption at hand, he ensured the council that they could be acquired if need be. He also offered to introduce a staffing plan to the public, including basic costs and amount of officers needed for these grow sites.
“We have a certain requirement and responsibility to you, to do our diligence, research, and to take a full day and go see legal facilities, like I did,” said Councilman Russ Utz, who proclaimed to have read at least 10,000 pages of reports and studies about the implementation of marijuana cultivation and its effects. “It’s happening now, guys. This is our chance to get it under control – let’s move forward tonight.”
Councilman and former mayor Andrew Kotyuk also shares Utz’ optimism for cannabis regulation in the city, understanding that the city has been infiltrated with illegal cannabis dispersal for decades. The majority of the City Council (with the exception of Ledezma) firmly believes that criminal cannabis activity will decline when the city’s regulations are cemented.
Mayor Miller proposed the integration of a “Cannabis Program;” one designed to manage the impact the cannabis industry will have on the city’s various departments. He would like the police and code enforcement departments to provide public safety strategic plans based on the approved cannabis environment, and also suggests staff requirements such as a gang task force, undercover drug officers, and police/code enforcement collaboration.
Miller also wants to implement a Cannabis Oversight Committee with one chairman from City Council, a member from each of the city’s departments (including cannabis developers), and meetings twice a month until the program is established. He also wants a communication/education platform open to the public that provides information on illegal vs. legal cannabis, and a way to report illegal grows. Miller has also requested a spending resolution to be adopted by the council, stating its commitment of cannabis revenues spending.
After a four-hour discussion, the Council unanimously decided to bring the outdoor cultivation ordinance back to workshop, for a date soon to be decided.