Lourdes San Blas is flanked by her brother Leon San Blas and his partner Robert Doolittle at the location of their new marijuana dispensary at Arcadia Carwash on Live Oak Avenue in unincorporated Monrovia. – Photo by Terry Miller
By Terry Miller
Two Monrovia men who have faced agonizing adversity and severe physical injuries and years of pain and rehabilitation may now be facing the toughest battle of their lives: their neighbors.
It’s not the self-serve car wash, diesel fuel tanks or propane sales that have these neighbors concerned about renovation plans for an old gas station property on unincorporated county land bordering Arcadia and Monrovia. Rather, these two men say they want to help alleviate pain and suffering in patients who could benefit from legally prescribed medical cannabis.
The property owner and developer Leon San Blas, 52, plans to turn one of the buildings behind the gas station/car wash into a medical marijuana dispensary with his friend and business partner Bob Doolittle.
But upon hearing of their plans, many in the community have vociferously objected. One group has set up a website devoted to fighting this potential business. It proclaims the following:
“We the citizens of this neighborhood, Absolutely refuse the allowance and creation a a [sic] medical marijuana dispensary located at 4332 E. Live Oak Ave, Arcadia, CA 91006, or anywhere else within our neighborhood. The installation of this dispensary would destroy our community containing homes, families, churches, schools, and libraries. We citizens move to have this project canceled and denied by the Los Angeles County Department of Regional Planning, as well as Los Angeles Building and Safety, immediately.”
One outraged resident, Susan Oberman, posted this comment on the petition site: “Absolutely do not allow this type of facility to encourage those who have no respect for their bodies and minds.”
There is also concern among opponents of the facility that it will be a magnet for crime. Indeed, last week two shootings at Hollywood-area dispensaries have inflamed an already contentious debate over the safety of such businesses and where they should be located.
One petitioner from the opposition site is convinced that the dispensary would create a public safety hazard.
“Criminals will be stalking the dispensary to either steal the cash acquired from the store or the weed,“ said the anonymous petitioner.” Guns are usually involved in all of the above activities. The good people of our neighborhood do not deserve this type of activity.”
Despite the homegrown opposition, a growing body of medical research has lead voters and lawmakers in California and 14 other states plus the District of Columbia to allow regulated use of marijuana for a variety of illnesses.
In a 2004 article titled “Myths about Medical Marijuana,” former United States Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders wrote that “the evidence is overwhelming that marijuana can relieve certain types of pain, nausea, vomiting and other symptoms caused by such illnesses as multiple sclerosis, cancer and AIDS — or by the harsh drugs sometimes used to treat them. And it can do so with remarkable safety. Indeed, marijuana is less toxic than many of the drugs that physicians prescribe every day.”
But despite the popular support among state voters and activists, local citizens are anything but keen on the idea of a dispensary in their “backyard.”
According to San Blas and his business partner Bob Doolittle, 60, things didn’t go very well when they presented plans at a Monrovia-Arcadia-Duarte (MAD) Town Council meeting June 15.
“They wanted to lynch us.” Doolittle said. “It was nasty.”
The two men stress that they aren’t out of town drug dealers looking to corrupt the neighborhood. They both live in Monrovia and have been well-respected businessmen and developers. Doolittle was even a Monrovia police officer for 10 years.
But citizens at the June 15 meeting took little solace in the fact that the men are locals with respectable histories.
“They wanted to put a rope around my neck” San Blas said.
After the meeting, Bob Doolittle said an elderly woman approached him and warned him to “watch your back.” According to Doolittle, he asked the woman if she was threatening him, but received no answer as she vanished into the crowd of about 100 people who attended the meeting.
Blas, who is paralyzed from an industrial injury after he went the Sheriff’s Academy in San Bernardino, said he just wants to help people relieve their suffering without breaking the law.
“I’m surrounded by patients who need help,” said San Blas. ”It’s like God put me here for a reason. I think it’s a calling.”
The two men and San Blas’s sister Lourdes are no strangers to pain after both men suffered such horrific injuries. San Blas says he doesn’t smoke marijuana, but instead ingests it.
Blas’ controversial proposal comes as Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich has announced plans for an ordinance that would effectively ban any marijuana dispensaries in unincorporated areas. In introducing the measure, Antonovich said that he feared the hundreds of dispensaries recently given the boot from the City of Los Angeles would set up shop in unincorporated areas, free from municipal intervention. Monrovia and Arcadia have already imposed a ban on medical marijuana clinics within the city limits, but Blas’s property is in an unincorporated area of the county.
Regarding Antonovitch’s proposal San Blas said, “I don’t think this will affect us as we started the process in December and I think it may affect those who start the application process after today. We should be alright.”
Earlier this month, the City of Los Angeles ordered more than 400 dispensaries to close in accordance with the city’s new medical marijuana ordinance. Around 180 dispensaries remain open within the L.A. city limits. Eventually, the city council hopes to whittle the number of pot shops down to 70 and to limit outlets to industrial areas. Dispensaries that opened before the city declared a moratorium on Nov. 13, 2007, will be allowed to stay open but, within six months, they will have to comply with the ordinance, which has a strict zoning component.
The owners need to obtain a conditional use permit to open a dispensary in an unincorporated area. They applied for the permit seven months ago and now anticipate at least two more months of red tape before they can operate.
When the MAD meeting took place, Capt. Randy Kirby of the Monrovia Police Department assured community members in attendance that he was “going to investigate these guys.”
While San Blas and Doolittle understand their neighbors’ worries, they welcome the investigation. “We are good community members with no criminal records –we’re simply trying to help those in need.” San Blas affirmed.
San Blas and Doolittle have recently installed a high tech security system of cameras in preparation of the opening dispensary. Plans include armed security guards to thwart off robbery attempts, bullet proof glass and surveillance within the proposed business area which is behind the car wash.
“When we started this process we started across the street at an orange building,” said San Blas, but that building was too close to a child care center. We found the gas station and made a deal with the oweners to renovate, paint and generally clean up this part of the neigborhood. The car wash is operable and hopefully by next week the gas and diesal will be up and running.”
Doolittle and San Blas are adamant that they simply want to help aliviate suffering in cancer patients and those with chronic pain who have a doctor’s recommendation. According to the two men, there is already plenty of interest in the new business from local would-be patients.
We have already have people coming into the business asking questions due to the publicity we’ve received,” said San Blas.
In addition to the plans of the Cannibis Dispensary, the two partners are hoping to deveop a home for Autistic children in Monrovia. “The proceeds from this dispensary may help finance the Autistic Childrends’ home. I already own the land so we are off to a good start,” said San Blas.
The proposal comes at a time when California is facing a potentially historic vote this November that could effectively legalize, regulate and tax marijuana for recreational use. In an eerie coincidence, the proposition was recently assigned the number 19, the same number assigned to a similar, failed measure put forward in 1972. Ballot proposition numbering resets every 10 years.
In the last few days, the NAACP of California and former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson have endorsed the “Yes on 19” campaign. Prop. 19 would allow adults 21 years and older to possess, cultivate, or transport cannabis for personal use and permit local governments to regulate and tax commercial production and sale of cannabis, while still banning the drug’s use on school grounds, in public, while driving, using when minors are present, or providing it to anyone under 21 years of age.
On April 20 of this year, polling organization SurveyUSA conducted a poll of California voters which found 56% would vote in favor of Prop. 19’s passage. A similar poll conducted by the Public Policy Institute of California completed on May 16 found 49% in favor and 48% opposed.