Signs posted on the Village Lane smoke shop.
Photo by JP Crumrine
Signs posted on Country Club Smoke Shop.
Photo by JP Crumrine

Riverside County Code Enforcement and Sheriff’s deputies closed two medical marijuana dispensaries Tuesday afternoon for violations of land-use codes. One is located at the corner of Highway 243 and Pine Crest Avenue, and the other is located in the Village Lane.

The group arrived at both locations and found enough evidence to shut them down and post violation signs on the buildings.

But not long after the group left, Country Club Smoke Shop removed the signs, opened the door and people were seen going in and out.

Riverside County 3rd District Supervisor Chuck Washington convened a meeting at the Idyllwild Library last Friday to discuss and review proliferation of medical marijuana dispensaries in the unincorporated areas and to assess Idyllwild community concern about those businesses.

Attending were Riverside County Sheriff’s Department Hemet Station Capt. Leonard Purvis, Code Enforcement Supervising Enforcement Officer Marr Christian and senior members of Washington’s staff — Chief of Staff Jeff Comerchero and Legislative Assistant Brian Tisdale. Town Crier representatives also attended.

Asked by Washington to confirm if dispensary operators in the unincorporated areas are committing a crime, Purvis answered, “It is a crime under county law.”

Medical marijuana dispensaries are prohibited under County Land Use Ordinance 348. Section 3.4 of the ordinance states, “In no event shall a medical marijuana dispensary or marijuana cultivation, as the terms are defined in this ordinance, be considered permitted or conditionally permitted uses in any zone classification … and if a use is illegal under federal or state law, it is prohibited.”

CE is the lead agency building cases against marijuana dispensary operators in unincorporated areas for vilations of county land-use regulations. The cases are civil and once documented are sent to county counsel for civil prosecution.

Comerchero cautioned that county enforcement against illegal operators is underway but the process of building cases is just that — a process requiring documenting substantial evidence and proof.

“Constituent complaints do make a difference,” said Christian. In building civil cases against illegal operators and their landlords, constituent complaints are included in the dossiers that go to county counsel for prosecution.

Christian can be reached at 951-791-3900. “Complaints can be anonymous,” he noted.

“The 3rd District, with 140,000 residents in the unincorporated area, has the most [residents] of any district,” said Washington. He noted that once medical-marijuana dispensaries are established, they begin to change the complexion of the community. “The longer it stays, the more it becomes the norm,” he said. “My concern is the potential harm to the young.”

Purvis noted his department is cooperating with CE through Riverside County Sheriff’s Department’s Marijuana Enforcement Team. He emphasized until criminal activity can be confirmed through undercover operations, current legal procedures against illegal operators and landlords are through CE.

Also confirmed at the meeting was that no business permits are issued by the county for medical-marijuana dispensaries. Readers have posted on social media that one of the operators has a business permit and is complying with the law. But no dispensary operators in the unincorporated area have business “permits,” and none are complying with current county law.

The county issues business “registrations” only, as authorized by Ordinance 857, the primary purpose of which is to ensure compliance with storm-water runoff regulations.

Regardless of future state licensing of marijuana businesses, Prop 64 gives local jurisdictions considerable latitude to ban marijuana dispensaries or regulate them through zoning restrictions. The Riverside County Board of Supervisors will take action on county law regarding these issues prior to Jan. 1, 2018, otherwise default provisions contained in Prop 64 will go into effect.

When Purvis was asked at the meeting if there was any connection between recent break-ins and burglaries in Idyllwild with the establishment of pot dispensaries in town, he said there does not seem to be any connection. He said crime spikes may occur when perpetrators are released back into their communities after serving time.

Washington holds monthly meetings in Idyllwild. As of last week, Washington only had one appointment for his 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. meeting Thursday, Aug. 10, at the Idyllwild Library. That meeting provides residents opportunities to ask questions. Call 951-955-1030 to make an appointment.