Garden Grove Council Debates Next Steps in Marijuana Enforcement

Amid changing state regulations and the possibility of a 2016 statewide ballot initiative legalizing medical marijuana, Garden Grove City Council members debated the effectiveness of the city’s current ban on medical marijuana dispensaries at a study session last week.

The study session wandered away from its original subject — new state laws on regulating medical marijuana — and toward the city’s ban in general. It was the first detailed discussion of the marijuana issue by council members on the dais.

Once home to the largest concentration of dispensaries in the county, Garden Grove has banned medical marijuana dispensaries from operating within city limits since 2008. But the police department loosened enforcement of the ban in 2012 while council members contemplated taking a regulatory approach, according to Police Chief Todd Elgin.

Since then, and especially after Santa Ana voters passed Measure BB, which allows permitted dispensaries to operate in a small area of the city, “dispensaries have flooded into Garden Grove,” Elgin said. “We’re issuing thousand-dollar citations but they seem to be just the cost of doing business, they’re just paying the citations.”

Currently, the police department visits 2-3 illegal dispensaries a month and conducts raids to “keep the pressure on,” but the approach would simply be “maintaining status quo” of 23 to 25 dispensaries in the city unless council members grant them permission to pursue court injunctions against dispensaries, Elgin said.

Cities across the county have struggled with how to deal with illegally operating medical marijuana dispensaries, lucrative businesses that often have the resources to pay fines and relocate when police departments crack down.

Mayor Bao Nguyen argued that the ban is not working and trying to double down on enforcement with injunctions would be “very costly.”

“Since the state of California is moving forward and there looks like there will be a ballot measure that will propose legalizing marijuana for legal and maybe even recreational use, [we should] take this opportunity to regulate and make sure we’re doing things right,” Nguyen said.

Councilman Steve Jones suggested the city wait for developments on the state level before acting.

“Expanding our current ban opens up a can of worms. Trying to fight something that might be legal by next year — my whole concern is I don’t want to throw millions down the tube [on an issue] that’s a federal versus state issue,” Jones said.

Nguyen argued the city should take the opportunity to regulate and tax dispensaries.

“To me this is an issue about resources, and the law allows us to generate resources from what is a lucrative business…that I imagine is helping to fund regulations in Santa Ana,” Nguyen said.

Councilman Phat Bui objected to Nguyen’s argument — likening it to using casinos to pad the general fund — and said the city needs to be more aggressive and eliminate the remaining dispensaries.

“I find that argument troubling. If our residents don’t want marijuana to flourish we should do everything we can to control it,” Bui said.

Councilman Chris Phan was concerned with whether enforcement efforts are pushing the department over their budget and asked about money confiscated during raids.

According to Elgin, if cash is seized as evidence, and goes unclaimed for 90 days, it goes straight into the city’s general fund. In the past four to six months, the city has confiscated about $300,000 from dispensaries that eventually went toward the general fund, Elgin said.

The mayor asked for a comprehensive staff report on the cost of marijuana enforcement efforts before the city council’s next regular meeting.

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

  • BeeBee.BeeLeaves

    All’s I know is that three Beverly Hills young lawyers beat me to a business location where I wanted to have a farm and garden store, between a day care center and and educational toy store, and made over 350K in less than 4 months. Despite, being next to children based businesses, the City of GG did nothing-nada-nein, because they did not want to get involved in litigation and were waiting for another city and another city’s monies to get the legal ball rolling. This was back in, oh, 2009-2010 or so. The day care said that at some times of the day, the smell would come through the vents and the little ones could smell it. The little kids would then ask “What’s that smell?” The adjoining neighborhoods had a constant strewn supply of prescription pill bottles on our lawns, in our community butterfly garden, on our streets with all kinds of labels with funky non-medical sounding strain names … Bomb Threat, Snakes on a Train, Alaskan Thunderf**k … all very medicinal, right? While I do not dispute the effectiveness of some parts of this plant being helpful to some of the sick – and the ones that create hemp fabric are awesome and should be farmed again – , bye and bye, that THC just keeps getting stronger and more effective at tweeking brains. No harm? Cumulative damage, instead of instant damage, perhaps? Look at all the white men, most of the party animals of the 70’s and 80’s, dropping like flies according to the recent study written by Princeton economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton. They report that they found mortality rates for whites began rising in 1999 and continued to do so through 2013. The rise was driven by drug and alcohol overdoses, suicide, chronic liver disease and cirrhosis. A lot of the cute, wild boys that I remember, exactly so. And, lung, throat “happy hour” cancers have also gone wild. Perhaps the DDT used on marijuana crops at the time contributes. Ultimately, not my circus, not my monkeys. Those lawyers? As chance would have it, I ran into one of them later, in LA Courthouse and he asked if I ever started my farm and garden store after they left the building. Their business model was, of course, make the money we need and run. They ran Scotch free, no ticketing, no code violations, no building violations, nothing at all. And he added, “I want to thank the City of Garden Grove for their patience which helped us pay off all our student loans, every one of them.” Yes, this city has historically always very kind and gracious to those who plant bad and exploit. The good people always end up paying the price later. One last question: What do you suppose medicinal marijuana Alaskan Thunderf**k cures?

  • LFOldTimer

    Look, I don’t smoke weed. I never have. But are we living is such a dark age that the intelligensia who manage our urban populations don’t understand that marijuana has a legitimate medical use? Think about some poor guy who’s got bone cancer with a year or two to live. The pain is enormous, he’s lost his appetite. he vomits several times a day and he can’t hold his food down which results in wasting. Why deny a man is this condition the opportunity to smoke weed which most doctors would tell you stimulates appetite (keeps meat on the cancer patients’s bones), relieves vomiting, reduces nausea and helps combat some types of pain? Why deny a man who only has a year or two on the planet this remedy? You’d have to be Igor the one-eyed monster void of any empathy for your fellow man. No way should marijuana be scheduled a Class 1 drug – since the medical benefits are proven and plentiful. What’s behind keeping this relatively benign product illegal? Money. Lots of people are making tremendous amounts of money off the illegal trade of marijuana – to include our own government agencies via asset seizures, etc… Do I believe in legalizing cocaine, meth, heroin, etc..??? Of course not. I’ve heard all the arguments for total legalization and while some sound logical – you can’t openly sell and distribute the hard drugs without causing tremendous damage to society. But weed? Oh stop it. It should have been legalized decades ago. The only thing in the way of its legalization are the dirty white collar profits that accompany it.

    • Paul Lucas

      “You’d have to be Igor the one-eyed monster void of any empathy for your fellow man.”

      Or Lou Correa.

    • Roderick Powell

      Mr. Hider, you have said it just right. We (the voting majority) were bamboozled into believing it would stay as stated–compassionate use only. Certainly you are not going to tell me that you are unaware that almost all drug deals (this is what they are) at these so-called dispensaries are for POTHEADS….DUH!!!!! Legalize pot if you must. (you will probably regret it) However, do not claim to be ignorant to what has been going on with these dispensaries. They just convicted a woman doctor of murder for prescribing “medication” when it is not needed….resulting in death. Yet these “marijuana doctors” do this all day, every day. Believe me, this could also lead to death! (for an innocent driver, for the user whose “innocent” pot use escalates to deadlier drugs, etc.) You really believe that all these people who would have pot be legalized…are going to be fine with their own children smoking pot. (and the resulting brain cell reduction that comes with it) Medically, pot is supposed to be for the dying and suffering. (look up suffering if you do not know what it means) Let the people “we” voted to get it, get it. Let’s get all the potheads to either get it voted it in as legal, or continue to get it from Chewy.

      • Paul Lucas

        Rod, you are misguided in many respects on this issue. And in one point dead on right. First, cannabis is not lethal or even physically addicting. The only way cannabis can harm a user is if it falls out of a plane onto a person. Secondly, Actually real scientific studies in Colorado have proven the opposite in regards to drugged driving with cannabis. One of the First things they have shown, THROUGH SCIENCE, is that driving related deaths have sharply decreased since the implementation of recreational cannabis. Third, the brain damage myth as well as the gateway drug fairy tale has been proven to be a myth several times over. The point about keeping it medical is spot on but falls short in that the patients should be the ones getting all the permits and licenses. This would have the effect of reducing the proliferation of these shops when first we work to ensure access and quality for patients first.

        • Roderick Powell

          Paul, keeping it medical by what the public believed they were voting for…would eliminate better than 90% of these non-medical so called patients. Maybe a small % of them are truly ignorant to what they are doing…but believe me the vast majority laugh at what a stupid system has evolved. We should have suspected this was a scam that would quickly make a lot of drug dealers a lot of money. A bunch of potheads make this scam happen, I don’t think so. The drug dealers made it happen and are reaping the profits. Seriously, these so-called mm’s are big time criminal operations. I suppose the drug dealers have made many more customers since this scam started.

          • Tonya

            Do you drink alcohol, caffeine, health nutrition products? You do have a perfect life, right? No problems, physical, mental or emotional? Life is good? Just a little hateful?

        • Roderick Powell

          Paul, if somebody is high on pot, than drives a car and they or heaven forbid somebody else dies as a result of their less than ideal state for driving, that is lethal by my definition. Physical addiction is not usually what addicts’ problem is. The big problem centers in their mind. They can’t not go back to using what they would rather stop (or more responsibly) use. (or abuse) Are you saying nobody abuses pot? Lots of denial and defensiveness. (protectiveness) Would you really be ok with your pilot having measurable pot in his or her system. Or the plane mechanic. Or the plane designer. No problem with your childs doctor or nurse having measurable pot in their system. Pot use and abuse affects us all. It is affecting all of our medical insurance costs. The pot users I hear on this forum, do not sound to happy to me. Why can’t the pot users say with pride…”I love getting high”, why all this disingenuous “pot is medicine” garbage. Pot, medically is really for pain relief. (it does not really heal anything) Yet their are many negative side effects…physically and psychologically) Would you really want your child “prescribed” pot because she feels a little bit “down”? Is their any pot user who can be honest about it all? (at least with their self?)

      • LFOldTimer

        A joint is less dangerous (in terms of harming the user or another innocent person) than a gin fizzy. The only reason it’s been kept illegal is to sustain the huge money flow to those whom you would never suspect to be the profiteers (or the fianciers). It’s not just the cartels south of the border reaping massive profits. And what are you scared of? I’ve never known a violent pothead, have you? But I’ve known many mean, nasty drunks who would resort to violence for the slightest (or even imaginary) affronts. The basis of a Class 1 scheduled drug is that it has no medicinal value or useage. And when it comes to marijuana that’s an outright proven fabrication. So they have to practice deception to maintain the fix. Like I said, I’ve never smoked the stuff but based on my research I see no good reason to deny it to any adult who has the proclivity to do so, especially to those who suffer from hideous disease and could benefit medicinally from it’s use. But if an adult is caught supplying it to a minor I’d propose a minimum mandatory 60 months in the slammer. As previously stated, legalization of hard drugs should be completely off the table.

      • Tonya

        Do you not know that herb is harmless and always has been. You sir, have been brainwashed. Unfortunate. …..Google it and you will have more positive articles than you can read.

        • Roderick Powell

          Tonya one example is all that is needed. A person smokes a couple joints. This person than drives a car while too high to handle it. He than causes an accident directly caused by this. Someone is hurt or killed, including perhaps this person. Are you saying this never happens. Since you are so open minded, read some articles on-line of the harmful effects of pot on both the user and innocent bystanders. One problem with pot is a small amount of people who indulge, force the rest of us to smell its stink. (believe me it smells just like a skunk) There is no love for fellow man from anyone who would impose this stink on others.

          • Tech

            Roderick, so you’re saying if someone have a few drinks is okay? You sir need to educate yourself about cannabis before opening your mouth.