Riverside is moving toward an expansive ban on marijuana-related activities in the city.

The ban, which must be approved as a city ordinance before it takes effect, would replace Riverside’s current moratorium that temporarily prohibits most marijuana business. The City Council voted Tuesday night, March 27, to ask staff members to prepare such rules.

Councilman Chuck Conder proposed the ban, which would bar the retail and commercial sale, commercial cultivation, distribution, and outdoor cultivation of medical marijuana plants. He did so after a delegation of city officials who traveled to Denver, including Conder himself, gave a three-hour presentation on the effects of marijuana legalization in that city.

“Abraham Lincoln once said that important principles may and must be inflexible,” said Conder, who went to Denver with Councilman Steve Adams, Riverside Unified School District officials, a Riverside police captain and an assistant city attorney. “Sure, we can have this in Riverside, but at what cost to our city’s moral and our city’s soul?”

The vote to write a ban was 5-2, with Councilmen Andy Melendrez and Mike Soubirous opposed.

Melendrez spoke of the needs of severely injured people such as veterans who are damaging their bodies with opioids when, he said, medical marijuana would ease their pain and post-traumatic stress without the same side effects.

Soubirous said the city should extend its moratorium while working on a compromise marijuana measure because he expects a pro-marijuana group to respond to a ban by campaigning for a ballot measure that would allow even more marijuana businesses.

“Be prepared to have it imposed on someone else’s rules, not what’s best for the city,” Soubirous said.

While Californians have been free to carry up to an ounce of marijuana and consume it in private since Proposition 64 passed in November 2016, state law gives local governments full authority to regulate or ban most other marijuana activity in their borders. Many Inland Empire cities have such a restriction, while others — including neighboring Moreno Valley — have much more permissive policies.

Related: There won’t be a public vote to allow marijuana businesses in parts of Riverside County

Ryan Bacchas, CEO of California Cannabis Coalition, said he started work Wednesday on a ballot measure that would increase cannabis access in Riverside.

“The people have spoken, not only voting for (marijuana legalization Proposition) 64, but my constituents have been clear that they want this in Riverside,” Bacchas said. “And in California, it’s the voters that get the last say.”

Citizen initiatives have forced city councils to allow marijuana under voter-approved guidelines in cities including San Bernardino, where a San Bernardino County Superior Court judge has ruled the initiative invalid in a decision that’s being appealed. Jurupa Valley voters will also see two marijuana-related measures in June: one that would allow commercial marijuana sales in that city, and a city-sponsored measure that would continue to prohibit commercial sales if it receives more votes.

Bacchas said he would probably aim to have the Riverside measure on the ballot in November 2018, so it could be carefully written and fully campaigned for.

Though he opposes the city’s vote, Bacchas said he appreciates Riverside officials’ thoroughness.

“Out of any municipality I’ve lobbied in, they actually did a very great job, except of course the ban,” he said. “I commend them for wanting to do their due diligence and even bringing people (Denver police) back.”

Two Denver police officials spoke Tuesday to the Riverside City Council on the effects of marijuana legalization in Denver, focusing on the costs of enforcing rules that govern marijuana growth and sales, such as how much may be grown and where.

Related: Searchable database shows how cannabis laws, support differ among California cities

Voters expected that legalizing marijuana would dramatically reduce the cost of marijuana law enforcement, freeing up those resources to focus on other crimes. But the number of police devoted to marijuana increased from one sergeant and four detectives before recreational marijuana was legally sold in 2014 to one lieutenant, three sergeants and 17 detectives today, Denver Police Lt. Andrew Howard said.

Lori Ajax, chief of the state’s Cannabis Control Bureau, addresses a room packed with aspiring cannabis business owners during a workshop in Riverside. (Brooke Edwards Staggs, Orange County Register/SCNG)

They spend most of their time responding to citizen complaints about home grows, which often include unsafe conditions and produce marijuana illegally and sell it in other states where it’s illegal and therefore more expensive, Howard told the City Council.

“Since legalization, we have seen a large increase in the illegal market in Colorado,” he said.

Colorado collected upward of $247 million in taxes and fees revenue from marijuana sales in 2017, the Denver Post reported.

And, since legalization, federal survey data show the rate of adolescent marijuana use in Colorado has fallen to its lowest level in nearly a decade, the Washington Post reported.

Riverside officials estimate that Riverside would need to hire 10 to 15 additional employees to handle licensing and permitting of marijuana, which could be paid for with marijuana permits and fees — though the city is already struggling to hire enough police. State law does not allow those fees to be used to fight illegal marijuana, which the city estimates will cost $892,474 per year.

A marijuana tax, which would require voter approval, could bring from $1.6 million to $7.1 million in revenue that could be used for any purpose, officials said.

Riverside’s temporary ban on most marijuana, most recently extended in October, is set to expire in September 2018. The City Council could extend it for up to another year.

Earlier Tuesday, a proposal to extend the moratorium until September 2019 failed, with Councilmen Melendrez, Soubirous and Mike Gardner supporting that motion.

A majority of Riverside voters supported Prop. 64, the 2016 state initiative that legalized marijuana, in every ward except Conder’s, which includes the Canyon Crest, Casa Blanca, Mission Grove and Orangecrest neighborhoods.

Riverside has banned dispensaries since 2007, and as of May 2017 officials had shut down all of the dispensaries in the city.


The Riverside City Council asked city officials to prepare an ordinance to prohibit most marijuana business, including:

  • Retail and commercial sale of marijuana
  • Commercial agricultural cultivation of marijuana
  • Manufacture and sale of extractables or consumable products in the city
  • Distribution of marijuana products
  • Establishment of micro-businesses
  • Outdoor cultivation of medical marijuana plants

It would not prohibit:

  • Marijuana testing
  • Indoor cultivation of marijuana plants
  • Carrying up to an ounce of marijuana
  • Consuming marijuana in private

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correctly describe the marijuana-related ballot measures in Jurupa Valley. One of the measures on that city’s June ballot would allow commercial cannabis; the other would continue the current ban if it receives more votes.

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