Voters will soon get the chance to weigh in on marijuana uses in Upland. Again.
In November, Uplanders not only disagreed with state voters and panned Proposition 64, they also voted down a local measure that would have permitted a limited number of medical marijuana dispensaries in town.
Now comes a challenge to the City Council’s efforts to ban many marijuana uses in the city.
Last year, seeing that the approval of Prop. 64 was imminent, city leaders drafted an ordinance that helps Upland regulate marijuana once recreational uses became legal. While recreational pot has been decriminalized, it won’t be widely available for sale until 2018.
Upland’s so-called super ban would prohibit the following marijuana uses in the city: cultivation, dispensing, transporting (by an unlicensed company), distribution, manufacture, processing, labeling and testing.
The city’s current municipal code already outlaws marijuana cultivation, dispensaries and mobile dispensaries that offer products with tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC.
BAN HALTED BEFORE ENACTED
The new ban was adopted by the council in September and was set to become law by October. The 30-day waiting period for an ordinance to become final is specifically in place to allow for a referendum.
In October, Upland city leaders received 4,700 signatures asking that they overturn the 2016 ordinance establishing a ban on all marijuana-related activities. Because the referendum was filed, the ordinance never became effective, Upland Deputy City Manager Jeannette Vagnozzi said.
On Monday night, the City Council unanimously agreed to direct staff to begin the process of holding a special election to allow residents to vote on whether they want the restrictions the council approved in September.
“I put both of those bans together (the previous ban and the super ban), and to me it’s clear that the (September) ban offers far more protection to the city, and for that reason I’m prepared to recommend that we take this to the voters,” Interim City Manager Marty Thouvenell said Monday night.
About two dozen people in attendance, who supported the idea of a special election, cheered after hearing his stance.
The city’s choice was either to overturn the September vote or leave the decision up to the voters through a special election, which could cost the financially strapped city at least $100,000.
“I think we’ve been put in a no-win situation — the choice of repeal or spend a lot of money. I don’t want to spend a lot of money, but I think it’s the right thing to do,” Councilman Sid Robinson said.
City leaders allege some of the signatures on the referendum petition have been forged, Thouvenell said. The Upland Police Department has opened a criminal investigation. But, because the San Bernardino County Registrar of Voters has already certified the signatures, there was nothing the city could do to stop the referendum process from moving forward.
Without naming names, Councilwoman Carol Timm said it was “sad” one person could force the city into holding a special election.
Upland voters have already demonstrated their leanings at the ballot box.
Although Prop. 64 passed statewide, voters in Upland said no to recreational marijuana by 53 percent and overwhelmingly voted down Measure U by 64 percent. The local measure could have overturned the city’s ban by allowing three medical marijuana dispensaries.
“I just pray that the citizens are going to get out there and really work to make sure this isn’t overturned by other people who have lots of money,” Timm said. Several members in the audience assured her they would.
City Attorney Richard Adams told the council if Upland voters agree with the council’s action and approve the super ban, then it would replace the current law.
Because the new law would be voted on by the people, then it could only be modified in the future by the voters as well, Adams added.
If it goes on the ballot and loses, then the council would have to wait a year before considering a new prohibition.
Prior to voting, Mayor Debbie Stone questioned how this special election would be funded. The city, as she noted, “can’t fix our streets, hire new police officers, and has had to outsource the management of its library and animal facilities in recent years just to balance its budget.”
Vagnozzi said the special election costs could exceed $100,000 because there are no other elections planned in San Bernardino County.
THE PROBLEM WITH ENFORCEMENT
Even if voters were to approve the so-called super ban, Thouvenell warned residents there’s still going to be issues with enforcing it.
“This certainly is not going to be the silver bullet — it’s not going to be the panacea to make illegal criminal activity go away,” Upland police Chief Brian Johnson added.
Johnson said Upland has taken a proactive approach to dealing with illegal dispensaries: administrative, civil and criminal investigations.
“Criminally, it has been a very steep challenge,” he said.
The Drug Enforcement Administration, a federal agency, essentially has a hands-off policy, not only because of Proposition 215, a 1996 initiative that allowed medical marijuana use, but also because of Prop. 64. Meanwhile, at the state level, the District Attorney’s Office has been reluctant to take these cases to trial, Johnson said.
Recently, Upland was denied twice by two different judges when it tried to obtain a search warrant for cultivation and a civil subpoena.
“There’s a lot of challenges that a lot of people don’t understand,” Johnson said.
Upland is now going through the administrative citation process to go after property owners. If they don’t pay, then the city can attach a tax lien, he said.
The obstacle is recovering the costs. Vagnozzi said the city has been awarded $652,967 for shutting down the pot shops. To date, it has received only $114,700.
This story first appeared on DailyBulletin.com.