The City of El Centro Says No to Marijuana Dispensaries




EL CENTRO — The El Centro City Council finally put to rest the hovering ordinance concerning medical marijuana dispensaries. The four council members present, Council member Cheryl-Walker was out of town on city business, voted unanimously, after lengthy pro and con public comments, to rescind the ordinance, declining to address medical marijuana dispensaries, and essentially saying no. Other cities in the Valley have taken a similar stand.

Ordinance No. 11-06, adopted on June 21 of 2011, that would have established regulations and procedures for up to two medical cannabis dispensaries, was placed in limbo through moratoriums due to numerous on-going cases. The most recent moratorium was due to expire July 1, 2015, so action was required by the Council.

Two options were presented by Norma Villicana who heads the CD Department: rescind or amend. A third option was not placed before the council, that of adopting ordinances that prohibit the establishment of medical marijuana dispensaries.

Rescinding the Ordinance “does not prohibit or deny access to those who need medical marijuana,” both Jason Jackson and Sedalia Sanders pointed out as California Law allows limited cultivation for those with a legal medical card, as well as legal purchase from dispensaries elsewhere. Presently, these are the only legal means to obtain marijuana in the Valley.

Villicana, at one of the two public meetings held in March to gather public comment, told the audience that purchasing from a mobile dispensary is illegal in the Valley.

Amending the Ordinance would have been required if they had voted to go ahead to allow zoning and regulations for dispensaries. The Ordinance, as written, stipulated up to two dispensaries, but California law resulting from the outcome of recent cases, prohibits any restrictions on the number of dispensaries once the okay is given to allow them. The unlimited number of potential dispensaries concerned the Council the most.

“We can no longer regulate. Two can become four, which can become twenty,” commented Jackson. Mayor Efrain Silva reiterated that fact saying, “Dispensaries would proliferate without the council having control.”

Each council member in turn spoke to the full auditorium on their rationale before stating publically how they intended to vote. The Mayor felt assured that those in need would continue to obtain what they needed through present legal means.

Jackson reported he had recently visited Venice Beach where sandwich boards lined up on the boardwalk inviting customers to enter the numerous dispensaries every 50 to 100 yards to purchase a medical card for only $40. There was laughter when he said he’d been tempted to enter and buy one, but chose instead to observe for some time.

It took twenty minutes generally for individuals, most between the ages of twenty and twenty-five, to exit holding a card and presumably some product. Jackson stated that the previous police chief had purchased a medicinal marijuana card for only $25. He didn’t need it, but had checked out the easy accessibility of obtaining one.

This matter of abuse concerned many in the audience. Marty Ellett, a nurse at ECRMC in the city, reported a personal experience in the ER where a young man with a medical marijuana card had shared that the vast majority holding such a card did not need the marijuana. Ellett shared that the years he worked as a hospice nurse with terminal patients –in pain from cancer, he never had to use marijuana as other means met the needs of these patients.

In response to Alejandro de la Rosa, a young man who spoke in favor of the dispensaries saying they could become a strong source of income to the city, Jackson agreed. Cities have prospered, but what we don’t see is the fees and expenses that these cities have to make to offset the behavior health issues that come, the social help, extra police, and increase in crime.

Jackson’s personal business is security. Dispensary customers usually pay in cash and large sums of cash often promote crime. A security agent near such a dispensary just recently was shot, he said.