There are perhaps a dozen medical marijuana dispensaries and cooperatives in Hesperia, and there's little that the city can do about it.
"That's an unofficial number, because none of them are legal," said Dave Reno, the principal planner for the City of Hesperia. "We're guessing there's at least 11, if not more."
According to WeedMaps.com, there 13 dispensaries operating in the 92345 ZIP code, including a delivery service.
And that's in defiance of an ordinance banning marijuana dispensaries passed by the Hesperia City Council back in 2005.
"There were no issues with them at that time, but we'd heard other cities had been having issues ... break-ins, drug dealing, recreational uses, and so on," Reno said.
Although the sale of marijuana is illegal under federal law, Californians approved Proposition 215 in 1996, which allowed patients with a doctor's recommendation to possess, use and cultivate marijuana for medical purposes. As a result, Hesperia's cooperatives and dispensaries are in a legal gray area.
"We are busy prosecuting them," said Reno, "Basically fining them, and that's really the extent of it, at this point. And that will go on unless the city council votes to change things."
Fines are assessed on a daily basis and can get up to $500 a day, he said.
One local group of marijuana advocates is hoping to operate with the full approval of the city, though.
"Long about last August, medical marijuana advocates and their patients started showing up at city council meetings and asked for safe access to marijuana."
West Coast Patients Group filed an amendment to the city code in January of this year.
"We took their code amendment to the planning commission in April," said Reno.
The amendment has bounced between the staff and commission several times. City staff is scheduled to bring the latest revision to the planning commission at their Sept. 8 meeting. If the planning commission is done with the issue after that meeting, the ordinance could be placed before the city council in October or November.
The revised ordinance incorporates the state's 2008 guidelines on dispensaries and collectives, including dictating the dispensaries cannot be on main thoroughfares in the city and mandating a minimum distance from "sensitive" sites like parks and schools.
"There's no guarantee that the council would vote for this," however, even if the planning commission ended up approving the proposed amendment, Reno said.
Residents could take the matter out of the hands of politicians, though, if enough of them wanted to.
"Citizens could put a measure on the ballot and vote to impose an additional tax, but that would take an election," Reno said. "There are wide-ranging opinions as to the amount of revenue that could be generated from taxing them."
Despite repeated attempts, representatives of the West Coast Patients Group could not be reached for comment on this story, but another marijuana advocate thinks they may be on the right track.
"You ban them and moratorium them, and you get this whole Wild West attitude," said Lanny Swerdlow, the head of the Inland Empire Marijuana Anti-Prohibition Project. "You license them and regulate them and you don't get this explosion of them all over the place."
Beau Yarbrough may be reached at (760) 956-7108 or at beau@HesperiaStar.com. Follow us on Facebook at Facebook.com/Hesperia.Star.