Mom's Protest

At the corner of Herrick Avenue and Paxton Street in Pacoima is a strip mall with a Mexican restaurant, a grocery store and a Christian church. And for the past couple of weeks, a new tenant has brought renewed attention (and not necessarily good one) to the strip mall, since it’s the arrival of a business that many in the community want shut down.

On Friday, March 31, and Monday April 3rd, dozens of mothers whose children attend the cluster of Vaughn charter schools nearby, gathered to protest the medical marijuana dispensary that now occupies the unit that had been rented by Helping Charities Thrift Store, at the corner of the strip mall.

Carrying signs and chanting “no queremos marijuana aquí”  (“We don’t want marijuana here”), the mothers forced the closure of the store — at least temporarily — both days of the protest. The employees at the shops opted to shut down Friday after the mothers started protesting, and did not open on Monday, perhaps anticipating another demonstration.

“We want this dispensary to be moved to another place because one of our schools is a block away,” said Xitlali Castro, one of the protesting mothers.

There are in fact several schools, from pre-K to high school, only a block away.

“We don’t have anything against the people who come here, we simply don’t want [the dispensary] here. As a community we have the right to protest and tell the people who come here not to come and buy here. There are many other places where they can go,” Castro said.

Alexandra Simons, another mother, added, “We want a healthy community. We want businesses that are going to bring jobs and good things to our community. There is no evidence this store will bring that. It’s too close to our children and we don’t want it here.”

The parents worry that people seen smoking marijuana is not the best role model for the kids passing to and from school.

No Comment From Leasing Company

Koenig Properties, the company that leased the unit after the Helping Charities Thrift Store closed several months ago, told the San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol they were not the owners of the property and had no comment about the protest. When pressed further about the business being a medical marijuana dispensary, they said they had no further comment to make.

Officials from the Los Angeles City Attorney’s office and the LAPD Foothill Division said they were aware of the protests, and were looking into whether the shop complies with all city regulations.

Several parents said the smell of the drug is very noticeable, especially when it wafts in the afternoon as kids and parents are walking home from Vaughn International Studies Academy, Vaughn Next Century Learning Center, Pandaland, M.I.T. and Vaughn Early Education Center — pre-K to high schools that, along with the Vaughn G3 campus on the same street towards Van Nuys Boulevard, number more than 3,000 students.

“We have five schools that are located within 500 meters (of the dispensary),” said Dr. Yvonne Chan, head of Vaughn Schools.

She criticized the owners of the strip mall for renting space to a medical marijuana dispensary so close to several campuses.

“The sale of drugs [like] marijuana, should not be near my school and should not be in our neighborhood,” Chan said. “What the heck is this? It’s distracting us from what we need to do to strengthen our community.”

Proposition 64 and Measure M

Last November, voters in the state approved Proposition 64, which allows those 21 and over to possess, and transport up to an ounce of marijuana for non-medical purposes, and grow as many as six plants at home. The measure takes effect January 1, 2018.

The measure also imposes a 15 percent tax on sales of the drug, which is estimated to generate up to $1 billion in new tax revenue annually, according to the state’s nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office.

This came nearly 20 years after California became the first state to legalize and regulate the medical use of marijuana under Proposition 215, a 1996 voter initiative.

On March 7, Los Angeles city voters approved Measure M, which repealed a ban on new medical marijuana dispensaries under the previously approved Proposition D. and replaced it with a new rule for different types of marijuana businesses.

A cannabis trade organization calling itself the Southern California Coalition announced recently that it sent a letter to Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and the City Council asking them to quickly implement the measure. The Coalition also asked city officials to refrain from further legal action against existing marijuana shops under the law it is to replace.

According to the coalition, Industry operators are worried that city officials or police will take action against existing businesses that may be in violation of Proposition D, which gave limited immunity from prosecution to 135 pot shops that were open before 2007 but prohibited any new ones from opening.

City Attorney Mike Feuer’s website says he has shut down more than 800 unlawful dispensaries throughout the city since taking office in 2013, and states that Proposition D remains in place until new local legislation is enacted following public hearings.

Measure M will give the city tools to enforce its regulations on the legalized recreational marijuana industry. Businesses operating without a license or ignoring city laws could face fines, criminal penalties and the threat of their power and water service being shut off.

It also allows for gross receipts taxes to be imposed on marijuana business activity, including the sale of general-use and medical cannabis, delivery services and manufacturing.

Chan said she understands the people voted to allow the sale of medicinal marijuana, “but we need to make sure it’s appropriate.”

“Everything has a proper location,” Dr. Chan said. “Why are they bringing this near our schools?”