If it were up to the Hesperia Planning Commission, the city would be granting business licenses to medical marijuana facilities.
In a split decision, the commission voted Thursday night to recommend that the Hesperia City Council pass a proposed code amendment put forward by a medical marijuana advocacy group.
"With the ban in place, we have 12 dispensaries and they're not regulated," commissioner Julie Jensen said. The city has had an ordinance banning medical marijuana distribution dispensaries since 2005. "Banning medical marijuana isn't going to get rid of it."
"That's been our experience," Principal Planner Dave Reno said.
In theory, the city could fine dispensaries away, as they can levy fines up to $500 a day on dispensaries and their landlords.
Commissioners and medical marijuana proponents pointed to the current dispensaries — all of which city officials say are operating without business licenses — as an untapped source of sales tax or separate special tax.
"You are going to be faced with a choice of making money off these things or spending money" fighting the dispensaries, resident John Douglas said.
Dozens of residents came out to the meeting to voice either their support or opposition to the proposal, which would be passed to the City Council for action later this fall no matter how the commissioners voted.
"Hesperia has about 50 outlets for liquor, hard or soft," resident Al Vogler said. "What is the image that you want to create for Hesperia?"
"I'm just asking for your compassion for people like me," quadriplegic Stacy Miller said.
"I do believe that God made marijuana," Charity Meyer said, "but he also made poison oak."
"Kids do not come into the dispensaries," Brian Novak said. "You cannot get a (medical marijuana) card under age 18."
The medical marijuana issue has dominated much of the commission's year since the West Coast Patients Group first requested the code amendment in January.
Commissioner Paul Russ expressed a desire for the issue to be resolved either by a referendum or a state agency.
"I think it should be regulated by the state," he said. "We should have one rule, rather than the patchwork of local regulations."
Commissioner Bill Jensen said that "waiting for Sacramento to come to the rescue is a nightmare."
"This community is not ready for this," Russ said.
"It's here, though," replied commission president Chris Elvert.
The commission voted 3-2 for the West Coast Patients Group's proposed amendment allowing dispensaries, with Russ and Commission Bill Muller dissenting.
"The motion passes," Elvert told the medical marijuana advocates gathered. "Good luck with the City Council."
The City Council is expected to take up the issue in October or November.
Beau Yarbrough may be reached at (760) 956-7108 or at beau@HesperiaStar.com.