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Officials to research whether more establishments can be supported at current city staffing, infrastructure levels.

HESPERIA — Despite opposition from several marijuana industry advocates, the City Council voted 5-0 on Tuesday to continue its temporary stay on the number of new licensed cannabis businesses allowed in the city’s green zone.

The ordinance allows approved applicants to continue operating and current applicants to continue toward approval. The goal of the stay, or a temporary pause, is to see if Hesperia can support the number of businesses with current staff and infrastructure levels, according to the Council.

City Manager Nils Bentsen said the addition of 10 permitted cannabis businesses would require the city to hire more staff.

When the stay first began, 55 cannabis businesses were in the approval process. Since then, 11 businesses have dropped out after not meeting time “milestones” or by having their applications revoked, said city Administrative Analyst Tina Bulgarelli.

There are 12 established cannabis businesses and 32 more in the permitting process for the green zone, which is generally located between “I” Avenue and the railroad tracks, and just north of Main Street to Bear Valley Road.

On Nov. 19, the Council voted unanimously to approve the ordinance that placed a stay on new applications for medical, non-storefront retail delivery dispensaries, which are the only type permitted in the city.

During Tuesday’s meeting, the Council also made several changes to the city’s cannabis ordinance, including an extension of operating hours. The new 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. window mirrors those allowed by the state’s Bureau of Cannabis Control.

Previously, the hours were 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Medical Cannabis Educational Center CEO Rick Casas told the Daily Press the three-hour extension is “a small victory” for cannabis owners.

During public comment and before the Council’s vote, several business owners, community leaders and residents applauded the Council for continuing the stay and regulating cannabis businesses.

Some residents said cannabis businesses have “oversaturated” the area, adding that 44 businesses are too many for the city.

Others said cannabis delivery businesses based in the city serve not only Hesperia residents, but also those who live elsewhere in the High Desert and Southern California.

Cannabis proponents, meanwhile, said the current ordinance places a “stranglehold” on delivery and that recreational marijuana should be allowed. They said marijuana has the ability to reduce stress and help those addicted to drugs.

Other speakers said cannabis should be a gateway to healing for the many seniors, veterans and children.

Mayor Larry Bird said he doesn’t disagree with the cannabis business concept, but he added that marijuana advocates should stop making arguments that cannabis would benefit children.

“In schools, the more access you allow, the easier it is to do,” Bird said. “It’s ridiculous to say it’s for the kids.”

Redlands attorney, and former Loma Linda City Manager and Planning Director, James Deaguilera told the Council that its focus should be on eliminating the black market.

Deaguilera said city officials are “encouraging the black market” when they halt licensing.

He added that the state’s licensing program is comprehensive in the areas of growing, selling, tracking, tracing and testing cannabis products sold by permitted businesses.

He added that the black market is flooded with tainted and untested marijuana products that are filled with insecticides, pesticides and other harmful chemicals that could hurt people.

Over the last year, the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department and City Code Enforcement have eradicated 60 illegal grows, according to Assistant City Manager Mike Blay.

The original intent for the cannabis ordinance was to allow medicinal delivery only, according to previous Daily Press reports.

One resident claimed the city could pocket millions of dollars in cannabis tax revenue if the 44 businesses were allowed to operate.

Staff reported that the city has collected $100,000 in taxes since February, with City Manager Nils Bentsen saying seven businesses are delinquent in paying taxes, while several others “have struggled” or are habitually in arrears.

Other amendments to the city’s cannabis ordinance include allowing a change in business ownership without forfeiting the license. The owner will still be required to go through the permitting process to be cleared.

Other ordinance changes involve cannabis odor control, permit time frames, not accepting an application without a building and the denial or revoking of a license if the applicant does not completely cease unlicensed activity during their application process.

Reporter Rene Ray De La Cruz may be reached at 760-951-6227, RDeLaCruz@VVDailyPress.com, Twitter @DP_ReneDeLaCruz.

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