After hearing numerous testimonies on medicinal marijuana benefits, Hesperia planning commissioners told staff to take a comprehensive look at the pro's and con's of allowing medical marijuana dispensaries.
"This is a real touchy situation, you guys," said commissioner Bill Jensen. "I want more facts."
All five commissioners agreed and voted for staff to touch base with other California cities allowing collectives, look more closely at the impact collectives have on crime — either positive or negative — and consult with a medicinal marijuana expert. The commission will take up the issue again during its July meeting.
City staff had recommended the commission deny a development code amendment to the city's current ordinance, which prohibits medical marijuana dispensaries. The amendment was proposed by the West Coast Patients Group.
Currently 26 dispensaries operate in the Victor Valley with 11 in Hesperia, according to senior planner Stan Liudahl.
"None of these have been licensed," Liudahl said.
Before the item came to a vote, commissioners heard numerous comments from Hesperia residents and medicinal marijuana proponents. Many emotional testimonies came from patients who said cannabis was more beneficial than pills or other traditional medication.
"We don't want this to become the Wild West. We want this to be access for patients," one proponent said. "These things are not going away. We believe they need to be licensed like other businesses in the city. We want this for patients."
"All I want is safe access," said Hesperia resident Tim McNamara, a patient who uses marijuana.
"I don't see what's wrong with it," Erica Jones, said.
A man in a wheelchair said medicinal marijuana allowed him to cut down on the number of pills he takes daily.
"Now I'm down to one pill a day since I've been on medicinal marijuana," he said. "We need this in our town."
Another man who said he had AIDS said his pain has been greatly reduced because of cannabis.
Leticia Pepper, an attorney who supports the Sacramento-based "Crusaders For Patients Rights," said she has gone off traditional medicine and is successfully treating her multiple sclerosis symptoms with marijuana.
"It's important that people be able to use marijuana safely," Pepper said.
Resident Kevin Sutman implored commissioners to learn more about the topic. Knowledge, he said, would alleviate their fears.
"I just want to make sure you guys keep an open mind," Sutman said.
Commissioner Paul Russ shared his battle with kidney disease 24 years ago.
"It nearly killed me," said Russ who also successfully battled lymphoma. "I'll tell you if I was going through that situation again I'd find a dispensary."
However, he added, "I'm really conflicted on this."
Chairman Chris Elvert, who is a sheriff's deputy at the Victorville station, said the Sheriff's Department does not currently pursue out-of-compliance medical marijuana dispensaries.
Commissioner Julie Jensen, who read a prepared statement, said cancer has impacted her life through family members.
Vice-chair Bill Muller said he was concerned about allowing medical marijuana dispensaries in Hesperia.
"The issue I see is much greater than [what's in] this room," Muller said.
Rather than collectives, Muller preferred the state authorize medicinal marijuana dispensation via doctor prescription and drug stores.
"There's much more at stake," Muller said. "We have to look at the community at large."