Upland – At least once a week, commercial real estate agent Tom Mitchell said he is approached by operators of medical marijuana dispensaries looking to open up shop in town.
The problem is, such enterprises are illegal in Upland and have been for several years.
To skirt around the problem, the operators often offer to pay three times the asking rent and six months security deposit. Some are willing to pay any legal fees they may incur, said Mitchell, who manages three commercial properties in Upland with about 100 tenants.
They will say and do anything to get in here, he said. Were any easy mark.
Police Chief Brian Johnson is well aware of the situation. When he became the citys top cop in April 2014, there were about six operating illegally. Today, that number fluctuates anywhere from eight to 12.
We will close one or two down and one will pop up, he said.
Since 2014, Upland has closed 24 illegal dispensaries.
A NEVER-ENDING BATTLE
In a recent sit-down at City Hall, Johnson and interim City Manager Martin Thouvenell outlined current and pending practices aimed at eliminating the public nuisance.
Police and everybody else in the city is diligently pursuing these business and trying to eliminate them as fast as we can. Its very difficult, and I think what were doing is kind of setting the standards for other cities, Thouvenell said.
Under the citys current business permitting process, the maximum fine Upland can impose is about $25,000.
Thouvenell said hes working with staff and the police department to change that, with the possibility of instituting daily fines that can compound each day the illegal business is in operation.
Upland, Johnson said, he started to take a proactive approach in shuttering these illegal operation – although that might not always seem like the case.
Its a cumbersome process, Johnson said.
The city has to follow the rules of the law and get a court order, he said. For criminal cases, there are certain protocols that we set up and agreed to with the county District Attorneys Office. We have to meet those thresholds of what they want done in terms of presenting a criminal case for filing.
Johnson devised an aggressive approach by talking to his undercover narcotics task force, code enforcement officers, the city attorney as well as having meetings with the San Bernardino County District Attorney and chief deputy district attorney out of the Rancho Cucamonga office to really come up with a strategy.
Now getting a dispensary to cease operations involves a cooperative effort from several city departments. The city is dealing with the dispensary in three different ways: first administratively with citations, which oftentimes are turned over to the county District Attorney for criminal prosecution. Finally, the city attorney files for a civil injunction.
The will of the people is that we have a total ban on medical marijuana dispensaries and so we are going to continue on that approach: administrative, civil and criminal fines, Johnson said.
Upland will use those three approaches concurrently.
Since Johnson became police chief, Upland has collected $250,000 from illegal medical marijuana dispensaries through judgments, settlements or court orders.
Im very serious about recouping the cost to the taxpayers. More importantly, this city has demonstrated they do not want medical marijuana dispensaries, at least to date, he said.
Johnson declined to say how many in the police force or staff are working on building these cases against dispensaries.
The time that passes from the city is notified about an illegal operation to when the doors are shut at a dispensary is unclear. No one in the city wants to get into the exact details. Both Thouvenell and Johnson declined to state because of pending litigation.
HOW THE PROCESS WORKS IN GENERAL
When a case gets turned over to the city attorneys office, it takes about a week for the city to get a temporary restraining order, the city attorneys office said.
If the business does not shut down, then Upland will seek a warrant. To this date, every case Upland has taken up for a civil injunction matter, the court has issued permanent injunctions, as well ordering the defendant to pay the city its legal fees.
As for the items found at the dispensaries, the city can seize the property, the city attorneys office said.
Litigation doesnt seem to deter operators or repeat offenders from returning to Upland.
In late December, the undercover narcotics team served a search warrant in a medical office near San Antonio Regional Hospital and the very next day the business was back open. The day it reopened, the undercover narcotics team had to secure another search warrant and another court order to shut it down again.
Johnson said he just learned a medical marijuana dispensary has reopened less than a year after a court order banished it from Upland.
It goes to demonstrate how lucrative this business or enterprise is, in terms of the money that theyre making, and so they are going to take a chance and continue to operate, he said.
What kind of money? At one operation police seized more than $20,000 in cash, he said.
As part of his tough stance on dispensaries, Johnson sent out a letter to property owners, every business and to major real estate brokerage firms, informing them it is illegal to rent to medical marijuana dispensaries.
Some of the offenders have been what Johnson described as mom and pop property owners duped by the pot shop operators. It appears a collective is operating on the property of the now iconic defunct Buffalo Inn on Foothill Boulevard. A makeshift sign helps patients find Dank City, a medical marijuana dispensary located behind the former restaurant and tavern.
Although he didnt directly respond to the status of that business, Johnson did say every medical marijuana dispensary that the Upland Police Department is aware of is under official investigation.
Commercial real estate agent Mitchell said the city is facing a long battle.
Ive been in Los Angeles, in San Diego and when they hear Im from the Upland area, they know us. We have a reputation of being easy, Mitchell told the Planning Commission on Wednesday night.
Mitchell said there needs to be a point when it becomes too costly to operate in the city.
Right now, its totally worth it to them, he said.
News Moderator: Katelyn Baker
Full Article: How Upland Shut Down 24 Medical Marijuana Dispensaries Since 2014
Author: Liset Marquez
Photo Credit: James Carbone
Website: Daily Bulletin