VICTORVILLE — With a nod to the rising acceptance of marijuana, Councilman Jim Kennedy on Tuesday declared the decades-old fight against it effectively over.
“We’ve been fighting this for 70 years. It’s always been a stupid fight,” Kennedy said. “Let’s allow a certain amount of free trade to happen as is true with other industries.”
Councilwoman Blanca Gomez agreed, urging officials to respect the 56 percent of city voters who supported Proposition 64 in November, which legalized recreational use and associated business operations yet also provided municipalities with certain elements of control.
“Taxation and regulation of cannabis, in my opinion, makes sense,” Gomez said.
Faced with a Jan. 1 deadline to get city regulations on the books to address a state budget trailer bill that established a single regulatory structure for both medical and recreational use, the Council met in a special session Tuesday to presumably re-up on its long-standing strict-as-allowable stance on cannabis.
An across-the-board city ban on commercial medical marijuana activities introduced in February, and the outlaw of dispensaries here since 2009, would have seemed to serve as the blueprint for new regulations, but officials, who appear to have slowly eased on such hard-line attitudes, may have offered a curveball.
First, the Council voted unanimously to withdraw its already-outdated medical marijuana ban, essentially merely a procedural move, and similar regulations might re-appear in an upcoming ordinance.
But more significantly, the Council did not explicitly express a majority aversion to commercial cannabis and instead directed city staff to draw up “reasonable” regulations on both adult-use and medical marijuana.
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Where they could have — right then and there — derailed any immediate future in Victorville for dispensaries or industrial sectors such as cultivation and manufacturing, they chose to not.
The deferral could be viewed as a victory for the advocates and industry insiders who came to city chambers Tuesday, yet it must be underscored that it’s ultimately still not a sign of inevitability.
At Councilman Eric Negrete’s request, City Manager Doug Robertson will individually poll each policymaker behind closed doors in an effort to gauge the tenor of the Council as a collective and identify where the majority lies, something which was unclear Tuesday.
Robertson will find Kennedy and Gomez are both supportive of permitting and regulating dispensaries, with Kennedy calling for a limit on the number of stores allowed and telling the Daily Press he’s also open-minded to the industrial market.
On Wednesday, he said by phone that “part of it’s driven by our inability to fight it,” noting how cannabis retail outlets already exist in the city.
“The world is what it is,” he said. “We have to deal with the world the way it is, not the way we’d like it to be.”
Gomez did not immediately respond to messages Wednesday, but on Tuesday she floated what she described as the virtues of the industry: new revenue without taxes on constituents, better public safety and eliminating the black market, which she added would quell the associated criminal enterprise and make it harder for minors to acquire marijuana.
Kennedy and Gomez will need a third ally for a majority, but they won’t find it in Negrete, who told the Daily Press he was a sure “no” vote on retail and industrial cannabis operations.
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Medical delivery, as recently authorized in Hesperia, is the likely unanimous common ground on the Council, with Negrete saying, “we could probably get there,” and Mayor Gloria Garcia revealing Tuesday she’d act as a proponent of it but reject dispensaries.
Garcia did not return a message Tuesday to detail further views.
“Bottom line is, I don’t think we’re going to be very far off from where we are now,” Negrete suggested. “The issue is a complicated one and as a decision-maker, there was not enough information (Tuesday) to make a decision.”
The tilt might rest on Mayor Pro Tem Jim Cox, who acknowledged the meeting had been difficult to follow and left him with scores of unanswered questions.
Still, the long-time former city manager said he’d be “willing to consider any proposal” as long as city staff explain its implications.
On medical marijuana dispensaries, he’s “very open;” on recreational dispensaries: “I’m not sure I am.”
But Cox, who echoed other Council members and said any upstart industry here must be considered with resident safety at the forefront, is also anxious to get into the weeds of the matter.
He said he doesn’t need stakeholders to try to sell the city on the purported financial windfall, which both he and Kennedy dismissed, but instead he called for more data. Earlier Tuesday, Robertson warned that the city would be far behind in “the green rush,” anyhow, so city leaders should decide from a standpoint of governance and never mind revenue projections.
“We’ve got a long way to go,” Cox concluded. “It’s my opinion everything is open to discussion. Everything is open to possibility.”
Ordinances must go before the Planning Commission before twice returning to the Council and then they are subject to a 30-day notice. With Jan. 1 admittedly a city target and marked on the calendar as when state authorities may begin issuing licenses, the issue is literally now a matter of time.