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Moreno Valley moves toward allowing marijuana sales

Moreno Valley is moving forward with a proposal that would allow recreational and medical cannabis sales along with other related activities.

At the end of a Tuesday, Oct. 10, study session, City Council members asked officials from the Inland Empire city to bring them an ordinance that would allow for the sales, cultivation, manufacturing and testing of marijuana.

If approved, Moreno Valley would be the largest city in Riverside County to allow sales and could allow for the most types of uses.

Last November, state voters approved Prop. 64, legalizing recreational marijuana. The measure also allowed cities and counties to regulate or ban industry businesses and to set standards for commercial activities.

In the Inland area, San Jacinto has allowed permits for marijuana cultivation and has discussed the possibility of allowing dispensaries. In Perris, voters approved a measure last fall allowing for medical dispensaries. Most other cities, such as Riverside, have bans in place.

During their discussion, Moreno Valley council members cited the potential tax revenues from allowing legal sales and the ongoing difficulties they’ve had in trying to shut down illegal dispensaries.

“We need to start a process that says this is where we want to go to allow multiple uses,” Mayor Yxstian Gutierrez said.

Though no formal vote was taken, the council split 3-2 on the issue, with Gutierrez and council members Victoria Baca and Ulises Cabrera asking city officials to move quickly on a proposed ordinance.

“We have illegal activity going on and there’s nothing we can do about it,” Baca said. “I want it regulated. I want it licensed.”

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Baca initially asked for a draft ordinance to be brought before the council next week, but City Attorney Martin Koczanowicz said he’d need more time, possibly until November. Gutierrez then called for a special Oct. 24 meeting  to consider the issue.

Council members Jeffrey Giba and David Marquez asked for more time to study the issue. Marquez said the city shouldn’t “rush the process,” while Giba called moving forward now “premature,” saying he’d like the city to explore how other cities are handling the issue.

The discussion got heated as Gutierrez and Giba clashed over the council discussion process.

Giba twice asked for a presentation from the police and fire departments about the public safety effects of legalizing marijuana. But Gutierrez ruled him out of order both times and then called a break in the meeting.

Instead, Gutierrez called up several representatives from the marijuana industry whom he described as experts. Giba called that process unorthodox and inappropriate.

“I consider my staff the experts, not these guys,” he said. “I don’t know who they are.”

Gutierrez responded that, because he is the mayor, “I’m running this meeting. If there’s a lot of disrespect, I’ll call a recess.”

Later, he called up Riverside County Sheriff’s Capt. Evan Peterson, who said police may face higher volumes of calls for service based on the experiences of Colorado and Washington. He recommended the city study the issue carefully.

Afterwards, when Marquez asked for a presentation from the fire department, Gutierrez said it was too late.

Koczanowicz said the city, which currently has a temporary ban in place, has shut down three or four illegal dispensaries of a dozen that are operating in the city.

Jamil Dada, an officer with Provident Bank, said an illegal dispensary opened a year ago next to the bank’s Moreno Valley location on Heacock Street. The dispensary’s customers have taken the bank’s parking spaces and its patrons and armed security guards are disturbing bank customers, he said.

Dada said he doesn’t favor legal sales but wants the city to enforce its current laws.

“This place has been there for over a year and the city hasn’t been able to do anything,” he said.