A marijuana dispensary in Santa Ana on June 16, 2020. Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

Several years ago, Santa Ana hatched an idea to pump money into some of its most underfunded — and neglected — quality of life areas by capitalizing on a product that some in town didn’t support, but which still existed in the community anyway: recreational marijuana.

In 2018, officials asked voters to decide whether commercial cannabis should be allowed, placing Measure Y on the ballot. Their answer was “Yes,” and now City Hall licenses, regulates and taxes the legal cannabis shops operating in the city.

That same year, the city established a “public benefit fund” through which all the new annual cannabis tax revenue would be allocated to libraries, park improvements, and youth services.

Since that policy shift, a drug with public safety stigmas has essentially given the city some advantage on bridging funding gaps in historically underfunded priorities, and has even earned praise from the Orange County Grand Jury in a new June 3 report.

Grand jurors noted “there has been no apparent increase in criminal activity in the areas surrounding the retail adult-use cannabis dispensaries.”

But questions remain. Namely, a big chunk of that money from the cannabis public benefit fund also goes toward “enforcement” activities by code enforcement and the police department for what are supposed to be efforts to combat illegal, unlicensed dispensaries in the city.

Grand jurors in their report noted the city’s expenditures in the enforcement realm aren’t all that transparent.

“The OCGJ (Orange County Grand Jury) learned that there is no clearly identifiable accounting for residents to see how this money is spent,” the report reads, later adding it’s “been difficult to secure specific information about how the money for enforcement services has been used.”

To Read The Rest Of This Article By Brandon Pho on Voice of OC

Published: June 09, 2021

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