On Monday night, the Ventura City Council voted 5-1, with Carl Morehouse dissenting and Christy Weir absent, to direct the Ventura City Attorney’s office to craft an ordinance banning stationary and mobile medical marijuana dispensaries, cooperatives and collectives, along with the cultivation of the plant for commercial sale, though growth for personal use could continue. It is unclear what, exactly, the impetus was for the City Council to be talking about such an ordinance now, but Mayor Mike Tracy said the reason was “to avoid inadvertently allowing any marijuana uses through loopholes.”
This move isn’t a big surprise from Tracy, Ventura’s former police chief, but in a state where medical marijuana is legal, and at a time when 18 states and DC have legalized medical marijuana, six states have initiatives pending to legalize medical marijuana, and two states — Colorado and Washington — that have legalized the use and cultivation of the plant altogether, we can’t help but wonder — why, exactly, now? (Some have noted, however, that it is an election year and public safety is often the top selling point for politicians. And we have to agree with Morehouse who dissented — the city attorney’s office has more important issues to deal with.)
Economists nationwide agree that the legalization of marijuana would save taxpayers billions of dollars a year, an estimated $7.7 billion annually by not having to enforce prohibition, and would raise $6 billion if taxed at rates similar to tobacco and alcohol, based on the research of Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron. Further, crime rates would go down if it were legalized. For instance, according to the 2012 Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice study California Youth Crime Plunges to All-Time Low, California experienced a 20 percent decrease in juvenile crime between 2010 and 2011, hitting the lowest level since the state started keeping records in 1954. And the study credited the decline to the reclassification of marijuana offenses from misdemeanors to infractions.
But Ventura, as well as the rest of Ventura County, has defaulted to banning dispensaries, giving patients as well as those who use it for minor "health issues" fewer legal choices. Consequently, law enforcement would have to utilize more resources enforcing such bans. Though it is illegal to open a stationary dispensary in Ventura (as well as the rest of Ventura County), it has been legal for mobile dispensaries to operate and for commercial cultivation to exist via the state’s medical marijuana laws.
While Ventura Police Department Cmdr. Tim Turner stated that other cities with dispensaries in the state have seen the violent crime rate go up, some of those cities, such as Los Angeles and Oakland, are more densely populated and just have more crime in general. Looking beyond the pot debate, though, we don’t understand the apparent blind eye the city has turned to some of its legal businesses that attract illegal activities, including one particular business and a woman that fell victim to a horrifying crime.
In June, at the corner of Main and Fir streets, an Asian woman at a massage business was brutally raped and beaten, and lost a tooth in the ordeal, at the hand of a man who had been paroled from the Ventura County Jail earlier that day. Her response to a good Samaritan who came to her rescue: “No police,” in broken English. Because certain massage businesses have garnered illicit reputations for sexual activity, mainly those that have tinted windows and/or curtains blocking the view of the waiting room often with bright neon signs, it’s not a stretch of the imagination to assume that this particular business was targeted by this man. Many of these businesses have only women working and, unfortunately, at this particular business, she was by herself and had no one to help her. And after being brutally beaten and raped, her only request was no police, which is clearly suspicious.
As we have seen over the last several years in Ventura and throughout the county, pot is considered bad. At the county level and in various cities in the county, the production of porn, which is legally protected by the First Amendment, is considered bad. But the proliferation of dozens of massage businesses — some specifically known for illegal sexual activity — and dozens of alcohol establishments (Ventura ranks No. 4 in the number of alcohol permits per capita in the state of California, following San Francisco, San Diego and Santa Barbara, as of 2009, the city has more alcohol outlets (320) than any other city in the county, and there is only one alcohol enforcement officer) is OK. Therefore, the City Council’s sudden focus on medical marijuana and six mobile dispensaries seems misdirected.
We sincerely appreciate what our legitimate massage businesses offer our community. We also know that many Venturans enjoy their alcohol. But when the City Council focuses on mobile dispensaries that may pose a threat versus focusing on and regulating businesses that are known to be directly connected with illegal activity — DUIs, alcohol-related neighborhood crime and violence, prostitution and, at worst, sex trafficking — the city seems to have its priorities backward. That goes for the county and its other cities as well. While we agree with the portion of the motion that directed city staff to explore working with county health officials to find a way to dispense pot legally, we urge the City Council to review the facts and reconsider its position on medical marijuana and mobile dispensaries and redirect its energies toward known illegal activities. F