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Legalization Lights Up Controversy

With the legalization of marijuana in the state of California, close to 30 dispensaries are planned to open in Santa Ana this year.

Neitan Mayorga

Neitan Mayorga

Drug paraphernalia sits across the street from the 420 Central dispensary on W. Central Ave. in Santa Ana.

By Bryan Rivera, Elizabeth Molina and Neitan Mayorga, Godinez Fundamental High School

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Customers flocked to dispensaries starting on New Year’s Day after it became legal to purchase recreational marijuana in Santa Ana.

The city of Santa Ana recently legalized the sale of recreational marijuana after a highly publicized debate. The final vote count stood at 5-0 in favor of legalization, with two members not voting on the measure. Although medical dispensaries and collectives were already somewhat prevalent throughout the city, new developments have put Santa Ana in the spotlight statewide.

Absent from the Nov. 9 vote was Santa Ana Mayor Miguel Pulido. Pulido was joined by council member Vicente Sarmiento, who also did not vote on the measure. The ayes took it with votes from city council members: Jose Solorio, Michele Martinez, David Benavides, Sal Tinajero, and Juan Villegas.

Recreational marijuana will be available to those over 21. The biggest new development is the fact that only a state-issued ID is required to make purchases, as opposed to a specially issued medical authorization card.

Currently, Santa Ana is the only city in Orange County which has authorized the recreational sale of marijuana and is slated to draw in customers from the greater Southern California area. The move is justified by claiming an increase in small businesses and revenue that the marijuana industry could bring Santa Ana.

Kevin Pola, a teacher at Godinez, said, “I don’t think they should be near schools or they should be advertising any of the locations near schools. For medical reasons I could see where it could help people that have certain medical conditions other than that I’m not a fan.”

According to the official ordinance, the city is set to make $9.1 million to $20.25 million, per year, from the revenue of recreational marijuana. Twenty-three retail storefronts were approved, and 20 licenses can be issued authorizing indoor cultivation, manufacturing, and distribution.

“It’s good for the economy, and it’s not like it’s telling kids to go buy some weed, it shows them that they can, when they are 21, like alcohol,” said senior Emilia Soto.

Since Proposition 64 passed in November 2016, many city governments have been moving towards enacting new marijuana policies. Several votes on the issue received strong support from the Santa Ana city council.

As one dispensary owner said, who asked to remain anonymous, “The city of Santa Ana was smart because instead of letting the people decide what they wanted with the whole legalization of  recreational marijuana, they took initiative and took a vote to create a set of laws to control weed dispersion in the city before dispensaries could propose a plan themselves.”

The legalization of marijuana, although passed via a unanimous vote, is hardly free of controversy. Ease of access to a former schedule I narcotic has set off alarm bells for some Santa Ana residents. As a result, cannabis dispensaries are restricted to industrial zones, and cannot operate less than 1000 feet away from schools, parks, or residential areas.

We asked students at Godinez about their thoughts on new marijuana shops opening in Santa Ana. Every student interviewed has strong thoughts about the new shops in Santa Ana.

Senior Alejandro Diaz said, “It is really difficult to describe because while marijuana is legal now it is hazardous to several people.”

Senior Julissa Zamudio said, “It’s inappropriate because its mostly children that will be passing by that shop and be curious what’s going on and then they will be exposed to a drug which is not good.”

When asked about pot shops being around elementary schools, junior Michelle Arcos said, “It’s a bad influence for the little kids because they can see the pot shops.

Junior Jose Ramirez said, “It’s fine that they are around elementary schools just as long as kids do not go near them.”

For Godinez administration, marijuana legalization will largely mean business as usual. There is established protocol for drug offenses. As Principal Jesse Church put it, “If they’re caught in possession of marijuana, school police may be called, parents will certainly be called, the student will be suspended.” In addition, Church said that drug offenders would be referred to diversionary programs established as a joint venture between the city and the district.

Although new policies in favor of legalization have received support at the ballot box, it is difficult to ascertain whether recreational marijuana will see the same kind of support in practice.

The marijuana industry now faces the challenge of changing its image to align with its newfound legitimacy. Cannabis sales and production have long been relegated to the shadows, and regardless of its legality, the unsavory image persists.

Officer Nadeau, the school resource officer for Godinez, reflects part of this in terms of law enforcement. “It’s made our job tougher because the laws and the rules are much different now,” said Nadeau. “Now that it’s legal, it’s kind of tied our hands.”

While law enforcement may find it challenging to adapt to new laws and regulations, those in the marijuana industry differ in opinion. “Nothing’s really changed,” said one shop owner. “Most of  the recreational shops that are opening  are operated by current medical shop owners, such as 420 Central. Recreational sales  of cannabis also hasn’t  affected the city as much because they have taken the steps to make sure that dispensaries are not operated illegally.”

Although cannabis remains legal for the moment in Santa Ana, it will remain a subject of heated debate. Recently, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has shown a willingness to backtrack the tone of the federal government towards marijuana legalization. Sessions, a longtime critic of marijuana, stands in a strong position to take the fight to states like California and Colorado.

Since Santa Ana threw its hat into the ring, the city is now an important piece of the great question of marijuana.

Any decision made with regards to the industry, be it statewide or nationwide, will affect local jobs, citizens, and business owners.

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