HESPERIA • Monday morning before work, about a dozen people gathered in a parking lot on I Avenue, praying for divine intervention.
"We can share Jesus with these people and show them that He's the one who can fill the need," Jenene Green said. "We don't tolerate sin and this evil that's come among us."
"It seems every day we read about some important person saying something's OK in the moral decay of our country," said Brian DuPont, pastor of Calvary Chapel of the High Desert. "But we recognize some things are just morally wrong."
The object of their concern was closed and dark at the time. High Desert Compassionate Collective, a medical marijuana dispensary, moved into the little four-unit strip mall on May 4 and immediately ignited a firestorm in the Mesa residential neighborhood surrounding the intersections of Danbury and I avenues.
"That down there is illegal drug trafficking with a pretty face," said Brandon Hastings, owner of White Tiger Martial Arts, one of HDCC's neighbors. "If it was a really legit drug, you could go to a pharmacy and get it."
Hastings first heard about his new neighbors in April and called landlord Arturo Magana to express his outrage.
"I said, 'Are you crazy? You just opened a drug dealer three doors down from children,'" Hastings recalled.
"I feel like I made a big mistake there," Magana said later. He said he rented to HDCC simply to fill a space, which a neighbor said had been vacant for two years. "I'm dealing the best I can with this."
Hastings has been at the strip mall on the Mesa for 11 years; White Tiger is located within 3 miles of six different schools and has 168 students. But HDCC's presence has him looking around.
"If it's going to take months to get them out of here, I'm not going to be here months," Hastings said.
Green and her sister, Jody Meade, have run the All About You! salon at the strip mall for 18 years and said they would leave if they could afford to.
"They had speakers bigger than me blasting out rap music," Meade said. "We had carloads of teenagers partying in the back."
During the May 4 grand opening, Hastings said the dispensary handed cards to parents of his students advertising a Victorville doctor who can prescribe medical marijuana for a $59 fee.
"Kids can smell weed as they're walking up to take their karate class," he said.
"I admit to some wrongs," said A.J. Shaw, chief executive officer of HDCC, like the staff blasting music from speakers outside during their grand opening. "We were a little disrespectful."
Shaw said he's open to moving HDCC to another Hesperia location — if they can find a suitable spot. He argued that if they offered collectives business permits and secure locations in industrial areas, similar to where Peaches Gentlemen's Club is located, the dispute would've never happened.
But Hesperia officials don't want marijuana distributed there, either: Two collectives located near the club have been shut down in the past two years.
Shortly after opening its doors, HDCC was visited by Hesperia Code Enforcement and Mayor Russ Blewett, who lives 2 miles away from the dispensary on Danbury Avenue.
"I had an exchange of words and ideas with the marijuana people," Blewett said later. "Our (City) Council is unanimous in our opposition to marijuana dispensaries."
"(Shaw) has since apologized to me," Meade said, but the raucous opening day celebration and the shirtless man twirling an advertising sign on I Avenue make her wonder. "If you're not open to the general public — which is what he continually tells us — why publicize like that?"
Shaw said his focus is helping patients with serious medical illnesses, such as lupus, cancer or Lou Gehrig's Disease.
A fall two years ago "ripped a lot of things loose," inside Bette Fox, a 67-year-old white-haired Victorville grandmother. Among them were old spinal injuries suffered in 1963 when the family car rolled over when a tire blew. Concerned about her painkillers' addictive properties, Fox's daughter suggested she consider medical marijuana. Fox and her husband had previously rejected the idea, as they had never done drugs. When they asked her doctor about it, he confessed he was all for it, but hadn't known how to broach the subject.
Fox now ingests cannabis extract by squeezing 11/2 eyedropper's worth into iced tea to help her deal with her pain. Otherwise, she will need a spinal cord operation her doctor says has a 50-50 chance of leaving her unable to walk.
"It takes the real hard edge off the pain, the heavy edge," Fox said. "Everybody in the house and family knows not to drink out of a certain cup — there might be something in it, there might not."
While Shaw remains optimistic that they can "communicate like adults and work this out," city officials say they're not budging in their opposition to dispensaries.
"How does a marijuana dispensary make Hesperia a better community, period?" Blewett said. "They need to find another city because this isn't going to be their home."
Hesperia: Dispensary, landlord face $1,500 daily in fines
HESPERIA • With a new medical marijuana dispensary in town, Hesperia officials are touting a tough policy that could hit both the dispensary and its landlord with fines that can reach $1,500 a day after a 24-day warning period.
"It is an unacceptable use within the city of Hesperia," city spokeswoman Kelly Malloy said. "While we can't allow something that the state of California prohibits, we have the authority to ban something that's (allowed)."
"They don't have any grounds," argued A.J. Shaw, CEO of the new High Desert Compassionate Collective at the intersections of Danbury and I avenues. "We didn't come here in disguise."
Shaw believes the law is on his side. On Feb. 29, the state's 4th District Court of Appeal ruled that cities cannot ban medical marijuana dispensaries for being nuisances after Lake Forest tried to kick the Evergreen Holistic Collective out of town. But the decision contradicts other rulings, including another from the 4th District Court of Appeal that upheld Riverside's ability to ban dispensaries in that city.
Shaw has told his neighbors that the collective won't bring more crime to the area, citing the fact that several businesses in the area have previously been robbed. The collective also erected 17 metal barriers outside, similar to the ones used by gas stations and fast-food outlets to prevent motorists from knocking down gas pumps or knocking down walls.
Hesperia officials aren't deterred by the Lake Forest decision, crediting the city's tough stance with lowering the number of marijuana dispensaries from 19 in December 2010 to three this month.
"The city believes that the law allows cities to regulate and prohibit medical marijuana facilities," Malloy said.
The matter isn't likely to be decided until the state Supreme Court takes up one or more of the cases, which may happen in 2013. And even then, any decisions may to be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Beau Yarbrough may be reached at (760) 956-7108 or at beau@HesperiaStar.com. Follow us on Facebook at Facebook.com/Hesperia.Star.