Stanton’s Weed War Pits City Council Against Dispensary

Courtesy of Mary Carreon/OC Weekly-Pot Plus

Protestors gather at 4:20pm on April 25 to protest the closure of Green Tree Remedy in Stanton.

On the afternoon of April 20, or “weed day,” the ubiquitous holiday for marijuana enthusiasts around the globe, pro-marijuana activists prepared to turn in the 2,992 signatures they’d collected for a ballot initiative repealing a citywide ban on medical marijuana dispensaries.

That same day, Orange County Sheriff’s deputies served an eviction notice that shut down Green Tree Remedy, the Stanton dispensary that financed signature gatherers for the ballot initiative, known as the “Fair Treatment of Veterans and Disabled Citizens Act.”

The ballot initiative not only would allow medical marijuana dispensaries in town, it would limit the number to three and the city would be required to issue a business license to 8871 Katella Avenue, home to Green Tree Remedy.

The ballot initiative and eviction are the latest developments in a long-running battle over medical marijuana between the city of Stanton and Green Tree Remedy, both of which claim to be doing what’s best for city residents.

Marijuana and how to handle its increasing legality in California is a significant issue for many communities.

Organizers for the dispensary argue the ballot initiative is about protecting access to medical marijuana for veterans and the disabled in a city where officials are determined to eliminate dispensaries.

Green Tree Remedy has been operating in Stanton without a business license for more than four years, although the dispensary says it has tried to get one repeatedly and has been denied each time.

Mayor Pro Tem David Shawver says he’s not against medical marijuana, but for a 3.2-square mile city that recently raised its sales tax to deal with a fiscal emergency, he doesn’t think Stanton can afford the law enforcement costs associated with having a dispensary in town. The city contracts with the Sheriff’s Department for its officers.

Besides, said Shawver, Stanton doesn’t need a dispensary. Marijuana is easily accessible in neighboring cities and by delivery, he said. But, he added, the dispensaries make enough money to fend off all city legal action.

“They are generating millions of dollars in tax free resources illegally to expand…all under the guise of helping veterans and disabled,” Shawver said in an email to a reporter.

On the other side of the issue, attorney Matt Pappas, who represents Green Tree Remedy and several other dispensaries countywide, questioned how a securely-run marijuana dispensary is any different from commercial pharmacies that dispense opiates and other prescription drugs.

“Where is [Shawver’s] empirical data that there’s a cost for the city as opposed to any other business?” Pappas said “Green Tree [Remedy] is a very effective dispensary that has a good level of sales, its surrounding businesses benefit from that.”

Medical marijuana shops have been banned in Stanton since 2008. Although California voters in November approved Proposition 64, which would legalize recreational marijuana use, retail recreational marijuana shops won’t be allowed to operate in the state until January 2018.

Pappas said Stanton voters,  who approved Prop. 64 by a 51-48 percent margin, clearly indicated they don’t want to ban marijuana.

“The [Stanton] city council person is an individual who grew up in the ‘reefer madness’ generation – they’re ancient and decrepit and harbor discriminatory animus toward marijuana patients,” Pappas said. “And so those individuals are doing everything they can to thwart the electoral process.”

“When it comes to medical marijuana, the cities think they can do whatever they want to do with impunity,” he added.

Read the full ballot initiative here. 

Stanton is one of many Orange County cities that have tried for years to crack down on medical marijuana dispensaries.

Neighboring cities like Anaheim and Garden Grove have tried to shut down pot shops with heavy fines, by going after property owners that rent space to dispensaries or cutting off their water and electricity, only to find the shops re-opening, sometimes on the same day as a raid.

In anticipation of the passage of Prop. 64, Stanton passed an ordinance in October 2016 that would, contingent on the legalization of recreational marijuana, change the city’s rules to comply with statewide legalization. But it also largely kept the city’s ban on selling pot and required permits for people who wanted to grow their own.

By late November, pro-marijuana activists had gathered enough signatures for a referendum to repeal parts of the October ordinance, including restrictions on marijuana cultivation, possession and sales.

Once it was clear activists had enough signatures, the City Council in January repealed the ordinance, but kept language in the municipal code that continues to ban the operation of marijuana dispensaries.

Pappas says the City Council has ignored voters by holding onto the dispensary ban despite the referendum, and argues the language banning pot shops should not be in place.

But a judge has OK’d the city’s efforts to shut down Green Tree Remedy. The dispensary remains closed as of Tuesday.

The dispute is getting more heated. In April, signature gatherers for the initiative were caught on video in a physical confrontation with Shawver’s adult son when they knocked on Shawver’s door while gathering signatures in his neighborhood.

Shawver claims the signature gatherer punched his son in the face and said he plans to file assault charges.

On the other side, Pappas claims in a Superior Court complaint that Councilman Alexander Ethans drove up to signature gatherers in November and rolled down the driver-side window of his car, yelling “Your petitions smell like marijuana! You don’t live here! Get out of Stanton!”

“I will do everything in my power to make sure the referendum fails,” Shawver is said to have shouted at a November 2016 city council meeting, according to the same court complaint.

On the afternoon of the April 20, Shawver sat in his red pick-up truck watching Sheriff’s deputies and the Orange County Fire Authority clear out Green Tree Remedy and board up a clinic next door. He said he has tried contacting anyone he could think of, from the national Drug Enforcement Agency to the Attorney General of the United States, Jeff Sessions, for help keeping dispensaries out of Stanton.

He believes the dispensaries are looking to take advantage of a small city, population 38,719,  and hijack the initiative process for their own financial benefit. He points to the fact a Santa Ana dispensary owner, Steinlee Saeteun, pulled papers to run for City Council in August, although he is not registered to vote in Orange County. Saeteun never returned the paperwork to City Hall, according to City Clerk Patricia Vazquez.

“The illegal marijuana Cartel’s ballot initiative will allow them to take over control of Stanton’s local government,” Shawver wrote an in email.

The City Clerk and county Registrar of Voters currently are validating signatures for the latest ballot initiative, which needs 1,445 signatures to qualify. The City Council then would have the option of repealing the dispensary ban, placing the initiative on the ballot for a special election or on a ballot in 2018.

Pappas says it’s only fair that Green Tree Remedy be written into the ballot initiative, given how the city has treated his client and how much the business has invested in the ballot measure.

“That’s the dispensary that helped…fund the process of the ballot initiative and so…it should be grandfathered in,” said Pappas. “It’s not right for them to be subject to closure and not be able to participate in the political process.”

Pappas argues the lotteries conducted by some cities like Santa Ana to distribute medical marijuana licenses are unfair, pointing to allegations Santa Ana Mayor Miguel Pulido solicited campaign contributions from a pot shop owner in exchange for a task force appointment.

He said Green Tree Remedy is trying to avoid participating in “pay to play” politics.

Contact Thy Vo at tvo@voiceofoc.org  or follow her on Twitter @thyanhvo.

  • Tom Waire

    I’m a long time resident of Stanton. People are going to smoke weed weather it is illegal to sell it here or not. The revenue generated at these dispensaries has to exceed $10,000-$20,000 or more per day. The solution is simple. Tax them at 15-20% instead of raising our sales tax to the highest in the county. Then section off an area near Beach Blvd and Cerritos where you can have a strip of dispensaries and rake in the tax revenue for the city.

  • WW

    PLANT YOUR POT NOW! It’s prime growing season.. Its legal now to grow 6 pot plants.. I grow them as 6 huge ‘trees’, 12′ tall and 30′ diameters!.. That all the room I got there. . . Check out: http://cannabislove.net . . This local group will help you plant legally. . . Some people are worried about thefts.. But with pot trees, one has to slowly clip harvest buds.. Like other fruit tree harvesting, a slow task. . . . . GROWING RECREATIONAL POT NOW IS *** LEGAL *** . . .NO WAITING TILL 2018.. WHY PAY ALOT FOR POT? . . SO CAL IS GREAT POT GROWING CLIMATE! . . . PEACE & BLESSINGS

  • verifiedsane

    “Green Tree Remedy is trying to avoid participating in “pay to play” politics.” <—and that is what this is really all about….as with Santa Ana…..the ruling oligarchy doesn't really give a flying duck whether medical marijuana users get their product or not….this is about money and a city political shakedown….last time I checked, pot is now legal in California….

    • LFOldTimer

      And Dweeze is right, Verified. Financiers for the illegal drug trade ON OUR SIDE OF THE BORDER make tons of illicit profits from narcotic proceeds and launder the money through makeshift businesses. And, trust me, they have immense political power. Both the cops and the crooks make tremendous amounts of money off the illegal drug trade. I believe this is the reason for most of the pushback and the refusal to honor the will of the voters.

      It’s a proven fact that weed has medical benefits for those suffering from specific illnesses. It’s is incredibly helpful to Stage IV cancer patients who are in wasting mode. It’s helps stimulate their appetites and keep their food down. This is not theory. This is fact. So how could anyone with a straight face claim that weed is a legitimate Class 1 Scheduled Drug (without any medical value) when even conservative physicians agree that it has a place in the treatment of multiple medical conditions?

      The system is rigged, Verified. They don’t even recognize the will of the people anymore after an overwhelming majority vote calling for the general use of weed in California. We are no longer captains of our own ship. We are relegated to the hull of the ship, told to hang on and enjoy the ride. We don’t even have a clue what the destination is anymore. Just shut up and hang on!

  • Why do city councils continually ignore voter mandates. Perhaps it is they may have investments in the illegal drug trade? Get with the program, Marijuana does NOT turn law abiding citizens into insane rapists & murderers. The Nixon DEA and war on drugs has created so much more corruption, violence and death than it was supposed to prevent.

    • LFOldTimer

      “Why do city councils continually ignore voter mandates. Perhaps it is they may have investments in the illegal drug trade?”

      Why that’s an excellent guess, Dweeze. You can an “A” for the comment of the day.

      Also, consider this. The police unions fund a large part of campaign financing for the pols. The “War on Drugs” has made police departments incredibly rich. Asset seizures provide them with cars, homes, money and the resources to exert more power over the plebes. See the connection? Police departments get rich off the “War on Drugs”. And it trickles down to the pols who write the laws. PRESTO! A circular connection! Not brain science.

      Think about this, Dweeze. We have a “War on Drugs” and at the very same time we occupy Afghanistan. Do you realize that the poppy fields in Afghanistan have never produced more abundant and potent crops as they do today? DEA and the military could easily drop pesticides on those fields that produce an essential ingredient (opium) for the many tons of heroin shipped across the globe – to include the USA. Some addict with a needle in his arm lying dead in an alleyway in NYC or Los Angeles likely has Afghan opium running through his veins.

      The ‘War on Drugs’ produces lots of jobs in the legal system. 100’s of thousands. Most with nice healthy salaries. So consider that dead addict in the alleyway as a sacrificial lamb for all those government workers headed toward a nice fat pension at age 55-60. You see, in a roundabout way the dead heroin addict is a ‘hero’ too! 🙂

      • Actually my insinuation that the city council members having a stake was intended as sarcasm, but in retrospect, possibly so.

        • LFOldTimer

          I didn’t take it literally, Dweeze. I knew what you meant…..that those that finance the drugs operations make out like fat cats. Is there a city council member somewhere across the country who does finance drug transports or transactions? Beats me!

  • WW

    PEOPLE VOTING UNITED ARE POWERFUL! . . . Its crucial that the average voters be logically influenced to VOTE for simple 420 dispensaries in Stanton… Rather than yelled at by mad raucous groups waving unclear protest signs.. The majority of Stanton voters need also to find and support the next council members.. Or this will happen again with recreational pot.. Meanwhile, how about having locations where people come to wait for their 420 deliveries?.. It’d be like a dispensary, without any stock.. Where people come in, order, pay, and pot is ‘delivered to them there from close by… Wow, The Voice of OC is becoming one of my favorite local news sources!.. I hope they prosper… Peace & Blessings