ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
Published: Sept. 18, 2014 Updated: 4:45 p.m.
When the Santa Ana City Council earmarked $500,000 in overtime pay in July for a multiagency task force to crack down on the city’s illegal marijuana dispensaries, the response from the police department was immediate.
By the end of the month, in three separate days of raids against the illegal operators, the police had arrested 110 people for violations related to the city’s 2007 ban on medical marijuana dispensaries.
These editorial pages were among those who criticized the plan – arguing that two measures on the November ballot could potentially upend the city’s rules regarding the dispensary raids.
Apparently, City Council members have had their doubts with the timing as well, since they haven’t actually allocated the $500,000 for the program. Instead, they’ve consistently postponed that item – and the money for the crackdowns has been coming out of existing police funds.
Council members made the right call Tuesday when they unanimously, and finally, chose to table the funding until after the November election.
It is questionable why the city – on the eve of a possible reversal in the way medical marijuana is regulated – is pushing to crack down on dispensaries that have long proliferated in the city.
Despite the seven-year ban, Santa Ana was rated by the real estate blog Movoto as one of its “10 Highest Cities in America” earlier this year for the number of dispensaries and “head shops” – those selling smoking and drug-related paraphernalia – per capita.
Until now, medical marijuana dispensaries have been treated as a code enforcement issue, with the city responding when complaints were received. Why it is now necessary to include, along with code enforcement officers, both the Santa Ana Police Department and the City Attorney’s Office seems dubious at best.
Rather than kicking the can down the road, the city should have been more proactive about the proliferation of illegal medical marijuana dispensaries when it first became a problem. Voters are now going to decide whether to legalize the sale of medical marijuana in their city; the crackdown was a case of far too much, far too late.
The council was right to suspend plans to fund the dispensary crackdown until they know the November election results. But like the decision on whether to police the dispensaries in the first place, that decision should have been made long ago.
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