City 'Cleans House' as it Prepares for New Marijuana Licensing

Code Enforcement Department to begin holding hearings this week to shut down holdout illegal dispensaries

Published : Wednesday, September 5, 2018 | 5:21 AM

[Updated] As Pasadena begins to implement the licensing of a limited number of local commercial cannabis businesses the City’s Code Enforcement Department plans to continue shutting down the final illegal marijuana dispensaries which remain open.

In June, Pasadena voters approved two measures to allow a limited number of commercial cannabis businesses to operate in the city and the levying of a special municipal tax upon those businesses.

Pasadena will now allow and regulate cannabis sales, licensing only six retail outlets, while imposing distance requirements for recreational marijuana sales from schools, residences, and homes.

Until now, Pasadena had outlawed marijuana dispensaries and waged a steady war against them.

Mayor Terry Tornek on Tuesday acknowledged that Pasadena has “had a number of illegal dispensaries operating for some time.”

According to Tornek, the current dispensaries are “flouting the law” and “have not gone through the process.”

“It’s taken us a long time [to shut down illegal dispensaries] because it’s very complicated and they’ve got money to spend on legal defenses. It’s taken a long time to be successful in shutting them down, and we are determined to shut them down, and then go through the legal process of licensing those that meet the strict criteria that we established,” he said.

The first of several Code Enforcement Department hearings on taking final actions designed to root out the nuisance illegal dispensaries begins Thursday.

A dispensary which has been operating as a sublessee at 2754 East Walnut Street, will be charged with four illegal cannabis-related code enforcement violations.

According to Jon Pollard, the City’s Code Compliance Manager, the hearings “can go several routes.” Cases may be referred to the prosecutor’s office for civil proceedings, or the City “can look at some other criminal options with the police department.”

Pollard anticipates that most matters will be referred to the City Attorney, however.

Tuesday, Pollard said, “I have spoken with the sublessor, and advised him of the city’s municipal code relative to marijuana dispensaries. And ultimately of course he has responsibility over his sublease to an illegal dispensary. So A, he can’t sublease a piece of property that is engaged in illegal business. And B, which doesn’t matter from a civil action between he and the property owner. The property owner is going to take action because [the dispensary owner] sublet the property to an illegal land use.”

Currently, says Pollard, the City has had no final permitting process in place for new legal dispensaries, but will begin providing application forms for interested persons to submit applications for legal marijuana dispensaries by the end of the year.

“I think the primary message is that the city wants illegal marijuana dispensary operators to cease and desist and it’s the city’s point to make sure that they do ultimately close, and that the city will take the necessary action to ensure that the illegal dispensaries are closed.” said Pollard.

At least one marijuana advocate, however, is unhappy with the idea of limited dispensaries in the city.

“It is important for the City to enforce their codes,” said attorney Michele Brooke, who represents a number of dispensary owners.

“However,” said Brooke, “the City must recognize that their inaction to provide Californians and Pasadena citizens an avenue to obtain both medical and now recreational cannabis, in a timely manner has caused a lot of the problem. There would not be a need to utilize as many resources to enforce if the City had an active program in place. Remember the Compassionate Use Act was voted into law in 1996.”

Brooke also contends that the City should already have a system in place for its application process.

“They have had example cities around them for years and the demand for cannabis in the city is obvious,” she said.

“This is no different, except for the federal prohibition, than alcohol.” she said. “Cannabis can be used and is used responsibly by thousands of adults.

Going a step further, Brooke said, “I predict that six retail stores will not meet all of the demand of the city and surrounding cities. I have first-hand knowledge that there are many current business owners and commercial property owners in Pasadena that want to operate in this industry. Why not let the market decide? If there are not enough shops in Pasadena that are legitimate, the need to utilize resources for enforcement will be a perpetual battle.”

Brooke added, “I think the City should allow manufacturing and distribution licenses to be made available as well. This is so that the City has a self-contained full circle business community that is accountable to each other and the community.”

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