Riverside, Calif., InterChurch News, 3.17.2020
FIRST IN A SERIES to investigate cannabis stores in the City of Perris and billboards ads; questioning a connection to violent crime, mental health, youth impact and city tax revenue
Interview: The Attorney: Joshua Naggar
Within several months in rapid succession, local Perris cannabis stores slapped up advertisements on no less than 18 Lamar-owned billboards along the I-215 corridor of the city's borders.
California voters approved Proposition 64 in 2016 to legalize marijuana for recreational users 21 years and older -- the City of Perris today has 15 licensed cannabis stores.
Scattered among industrial park locations and freeway billboard signs are names such as: Dynamic Meds, Empire Gardens, Firehouse 64, Green Kong Cannibas, Higher Learning Dispensary, Strains Dispensary and Westside CLLCTV.
While the pot advertising growth in Perris alone was striking, six murders were commited in the city during February -- a cause for alarm to City Hall as well as its citizens.
Three of the six murdered in Perris were found lying execution-style at a local cemetery near the grave of a restaurant owner killed in Mexico, according to Press Enterprise reports.
The 33-year old suspect -- Jose Luis Torres-Garcia twice-deported to Mexico and with pending traffic and drug offenses -- was arrested in Wyoming with 15 pounds of marijuana.
Is there a connection to Perris pot shops, billboards and violent crime?
'I absolutely do not feel there's a connection between the crime we are seeing in Perris and commercial cannabis,' said Joshua Naggar, 40, an attorney, real estate broker, past president and current member of the Perris Valley Chamber of Commerce.
Naggar, a Marine veteran with a Perris office in the historic Old Southern Hotel on 445 S. D. St., assists cannabis store owners in the license application process to the City of Perris -- which has the authority to reject any (or all) cannabis stores in the community.
'I will tell you a lawful compliance shop is probably the safest place in Perris,' Naggar said in the phone interview. 'You got four to five armed guards, a lot of order ... we don't sense that the criminal uptick has really anything to do with the lawful cannabis market.'
'[Cannabis stores] pay taxes. They have payroll and employees and none of the violence, none, zero is connected to any commercial cannabis operation,' said Naggar.
Pay taxes? The City of Perris collects $50,000 a month in tax monies from each of the three top cannabis stores, according to Naggar.
And there are 15 cannabis stores in Perris, he said.
'It's a great source of revenue,' he said. 'Everywhere you see retail cannabis, you're likely going to see billboards because billboards are a great way to market.
'"Exit now! Go to my shop!" and inevitably they sell merchandise,' he said.
And the City of Perris won't be flying solo in Riverside County sporting Mike Tyson or King Kong cannabis ads on billboards -- while raking in casino-like revenue from cannibas shops.
'You keep bringing up Perris,' Naggar said. 'You got 20 plus shops about to open in Moreno Valley, you got about 10 or so in Lake Elsinore, you got Wildomar opening up, and all sorts of other jurisdictions,' Naggar said. 'You're going to see more billboards.'
Naggar, who served as a machine gunner in the 24th Marine Expedition Unit acccording to his business webpage, distances the Perris cemetery triple-slayer suspect caught holding 15 pounds of marijuana to any connection with local cannabis stores.
'He was caught with 15 pounds of raw cannabis,' said Nagger, 'that's over the limit you can buy from a cannabis shop. You're not allowed to buy bulk cannabis. You can only buy cannabis in its manufactured form. This person ... [had] black market, unregistered, unmetric cannabis.'
One more thing: 'He didn't have a license,' Naggar said.
'The was some sort of gang-style killing that had everything to do with a particular person who was killed in Mexico -- it had nothing to do with anything commercial, I'll tell you that,' he said.
Naggar, who earned his law degree from the University of Illinois College of Law according to his business webpage, reiterates his belief cannabis is not a link to violence:
'I don't see the prevelance of violence under the influence of cannabis,' Naggar said. 'Cannabis is more of a docile affect for most people. We just don't see a lot of violence around it like you would a harder drug or a narcotic.'
'Is it possible that people who commit crimes are high? Certainly,' he said.
-In the second part of this inteview, Joshua Naggar will explain cannabis billboard marketing strategy, advertising restrictions and product regulations.
Additional References: 'Tell Your Children -- The Truth about Marijuana, Mental Illness and Violence,' by Alex Berenson; 'Marijuana Debunked: The Case Against Legalization,' by Ed Gogek.
-By W. Keith Sloane
Correction: The City of Perris has 10 licensed cannabis stores, six more stores have pending licenses according to the Planning Department. The 15 store count was a number used during an example by Naggar -- not a specific current count. InterChurch News regrets the error.