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Inland Empire wrestles with potential, pitfalls of expanding cannabis industry

With its great commercial capacity and relatively cheap land prices, the vast and logistics-savvy Inland Empire might seem like a good place to set up various seed-to-store marijuana-related businesses now that California voters have approved the legalization of recreational marijuana.

While local cities may be bursting with industrial property and easy access to highway and even an airport, a number of them also may be sporting an equal amount of distaste for marijuana. Already, many have already enacted laws banning the commercial cultivation, distribution and retail sale of recreational pot, even though Proposition 64 doesn’t allow for the issuance of business licenses until 2018.

Al Boling, city manager for Ontario, said his City Council last month approved an ordinance with language that specifically addresses Prop. 64, effectively banning cultivation, distribution and sale of marijuana for both medical and recreational products.

“Our October ordinance’s prohibitions on recreational and medicinal will stand even after Prop. 64,” Boling said in a statement.

The same has occurred in Fontana, according to Mayor Acquanetta Warren.

“We’ve already passed an ordinance against it, so there’s no business potential we’re looking at right now,” Warren said.

Inland Empire city leaders who have banned marijuana cultivation, distribution and sale — for either medicinal or recreational purposes — cite concern over family values and public safety.

“With prospective sales, it brings about an unwanted criminal element,” Warren said. “It’s a really touchy situation because I’ve had a chance to really study how medical marijuana (helps some), but we just have a responsibility to keeping our citizens and commercial businesses safe.”

Joann Lombardo, community development director for the Chino Hills, said a medical marijuana ordinance banning cultivation, distribution and sale was passed in 2014, though if city leaders choose to address the new state law, it will have to draft new ordinance language for recreational marijuana and consider another ordinance.

“Our ordinance is specific to medical marijuana, so we are looking at the appropriate ordinance with the new state law,” Lombardo said. “We’ve looked at it internally, but we haven’t made any conclusion or recommendation looking for City Council’s guidance.”

Lombardo said Chino Hills is a family community and when leaders looked at the appropriate use of medical marijuana establishments in the city, they determined “it is not in keeping with that family atmosphere that is typical of Chino Hills.”

Meanwhile in the city of San Bernardino, voters on Election Day passed Measure O, which replaces a citywide ban with a regulatory plan.

“Everything in it works with (Prop. 64),” said Craig Beresh, president of the California Cannabis Coalition and leader of the Measure O Campaign. “It should work for both” medicinal dispensaries and recreational stores.

Beresh’s group, which is based in Upland but will be moving soon to Sacramento, helps draft ballot initiatives for communities meant to replace local bans with regulatory plans to increase patients’ access to medicinal marijuana.

“Once San Bernardino gets all the logistics, it will work perfectly fine and when they see the income and tax (revenue), I think other cities are going to jump on it,” Beresh said.

The new marijuana law in San Bernardino could bring $19-24 million in new revenue to the city, according to the research firm Whitney Economics.

Experts say the emerging industry may take foothold first in the Inland Empire farther east, in the less populated desert communities, such as in Adelanto and Desert Hot Springs, where city leaders have already approved medical marijuana cultivation.

“If it is in fact going to be grown in places like the Inland Empire, I think it stands to reason the processing would be convenient and cheaper transportation cost-wise to do it in the Inland Empire as well,” Jay Prag, a professor of economics and finance at the Drucker School of Management at Claremont Graduate University, said. “I think a lot of the Inland Empire cities that are historically conservative will push this into neighboring communities who are perhaps economically not in a position to say no.”


This article was first published at DailyBulletin.com.