Marijuana debate renewed at Escondido mayoral town hall

Marijuana debate renewed at Escondido mayoral town hall
Courtesy photo

ESCONDIDO — It lasted an hour and half of it consisted of Escondido Mayor Sam Abed giving a presentation about the city’s accomplishments in recent months during his mayoral tenure. And yet, the hot stove issue of marijuana licensing still found its way to the forefront of the 15th town hall meeting held by Abed on Oct. 3.

The issue was put on the table by Escondido-based attorney Edward Wicker, who owns the Wicker Law Group, a firm which maintains offices in both downtown Escondido and in the Rancho Bernardo area of San Diego. Wicker also serves as one of the leaders of the group San Diego NORML, a chapter of the broader National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

“I’d like to open up dialogue with you. I have lots of resources. I understand you’re not going to make permits available next week,” Wicker said at the town hall, pointing to the California’s passage of Proposition 64 during the 2016 election as the legislation, which opened the door for a regulated cannabis industry in the state. Wicker noted that, on top of needing a state permit to act as a cannabis dispenser, city permits are also needed, something which is illegal in Escondido due to a vote taken place in February by the City Council.

In response, Abed said that though he may be interested in beginning a dialogue on the marijuana issue within the next year or so, he saw it as his mission for now to keep the drug out of circulation in the city. He also said he would ensure that recreational marijuana stay off the regulated market during his mayoral tenure, pointing to what he said were risks it posed to the city’s youth and its overall reputation.

“When Proposition 64 passed, I bet you if you voted for it, they did not tell you that we have to get dispensaries, we have to get things next to our schools (and) next to our public facilities,” Abed said. “Nobody knew that. They only told them, ‘You know, if we’re going to pass this, we’re going to allow (for) the creation of marijuana.”

Abed and the City Council have cracked down on marijuana, including a 2016 vote to ban on medical marijuana, despite the fact that 52.1 percent of the city’s electorate voted in favor of Proposition 64. He said at the town hall meeting that his main concern about the drug is that it can serve as an “entry drug.”

Speaking about that, Abed said he worried about “our kids and schools and our having dispensaries next to youth and families and residential areas. That’s a concern and that’s where we stand today.”

Escondido Mayor Sam Abed. Photo by Shana Thompson

Rebutting Abed at the town hall, Wicker said that Abed’s interpretation that Escondido’s residents “simply misunderstood” Proposition 64 “is somewhat of a disservice to the voting public.”

“But I’m not here to argue and I want to open up dialogue,” Wicker continued. “I understand there is an evolution of viewpoints on this issue which is why I hope we can have a committee” which tackles the city’s marijuana policy going forward.

Pointing to what he said were some of the positive sides of medical marijuana — despite the fact that it is banned in the city — Abed called the issue an at-large one, which is more of a federal government issue. He also said he was open for more dialogue on the issue going forward, a claim for which Wicker said he is skeptical in an interview he did with The Coast News in the town hall’s aftermath.

“I thought it was an opportunity to engage with the mayor and I’m concerned about the city’s reluctance to provide a path forward for cannabis businesses when the view in favor is clearly in the majority and the mayor is obstructing the will of the majority,” said Wicker, who added that he has practiced cannabis business law since 2012. “Is prohibition a workable policy? It failed with alcohol and has failed for many years with cannabis.”

Wicker also called Abed’s statement about marijuana dispensaries being close to schools a “fear that is not based on any facts,” adding that nowhere in the state are dispensaries zoned within close proximity to educational centers.

“I think that the mayor was pretty clear that he has no genuine interest in having a dialogue that would better inform him and city officials about the benefits of having a regulated cannabis business,” Wicker said. “His mind appeared to be closed.”

Wicker opined that punting on having a dialogue on the issue within a year or two, as Abed said he might have the will to do, stands for now as a policy of “evasion” and that he is considering the next appropriate legal steps to take moving forward on behalf of his cannabis industry clients.

“Every day I feel pressure from my clients who want to establish compliant, legal cannabis businesses close to where they live, which includes in the city of Escondido,” Wicker said. “So, this large number of residents of Escondido are not going to go away, nor should they have their political will frustrated by a minority who is holding the reins of police power.”

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