BARSTOW Pastor Joe Green never imagined the small Barstow church which once housed faithful worshipers decades ago would one day be used to illegally sell marijuana.

This is why he was outraged when city officials found evidence of a medicinal marijuana dispensary during an inspection of the building Thursday at 1271 West Main Street.
Medical marijuana dispensaries were banned from operating in the city of Barstow after the City Council voted on the issue last year.

"I was shocked, angry, frustrated. I felt like I had been deceived," Green said.

The property is managed by New Life Fellowship and owned by the church's denomination.

Since March 1, it was being leased to a businessman, William Chamblin, according to an inspection warrant affidavit.

Chamblin told Green he subleased the property, though no names were included in the affidavit. When city officials and Green visited the property, two people, who would not give them their full names, said they were operating a medicinal marijuana dispensary.

"They answered our questions unashamedly. 'Yeah, we're selling medical marijuana. We're volunteers,' " Green said. "They were really nice not in the least bit rude. But they were not ashamed in the least."

During a visit to the building Friday, a man who did not identify himself said the facility was not a medical marijuana dispensary, though he couldn't comment on what the business did.
In what appeared to be a waiting room, copies of the marijuana magazine "High Times" lay on a coffee table, accompanied by the skunk odor of marijuana smoke. He also said he "did not know anything about any owners" or how to reach them.

When city officials conducted the search, several police attended, though they were only there for support. No arrests were made, nor was anything confiscated. The Barstow Police Department did not return several messages for comment Friday.

"I think I was a little more hopeful that there would be a heavier hand from law enforcement," Green said. "But I understand with what the state has done, with what's been voted on, how it kind of ties their hands, slightly."

Since the ban, there has been at least one medicinal marijuana dispensary to attempt opening shop in Barstow, Barstow Police Sgt. Andy Espinoza said after the incident. After police learned of a dispensary in the Mercado Mall at 222 East Main Street, they shut it down March 31 within a month of operations.

Police confiscated their product and recommended a case to the District Attorney's office, though no charges were ever filed against the owner. Attempts to reach the public affairs office of the San Bernardino County District Attorney's Office were unsuccessful Friday.

The worst part for Green, he said, was that that building really does represent the church.

"It doesn't say our church name on the building, but people who've been in the community for any length of time know its associated with us," Green said.

Green said he will continue to work with city and law enforcement to remedy the situation.

As far as the next step for the city they will be sending the tenants a notice of violation.

Contact the writer:
(760) 256-4123 or klucia@desertdispatch.com