INDIO — Less than two months after taking office, Indio City Councilmember Oscar F. Ortiz, an advocate of the cannabis industry, had to recuse himself from a cannabis-related discussion due to potential conflict of interest.
Earlier this month, City Manager Mark Scott briefed the City Council on a proposal from two years to de-annex a property in the sphere of influence of Indio. The publicly unidentified owners are interested in operating a cannabis business and would like to de-annex the property from the city of Indio and annex to the city of Coachella.
During the briefing, City Attorney Craig Steel said Ortiz, a Stanford-educated chemist, recused himself due to a conflict; his employer is near the property and Ortiz was advised out of an “abundance of caution to recuse himself from discussion,” according to the City Manager’s Report in the unapproved Jan. 9 minutes.
Ortiz did not respond to three requests to identify his employer.
City officials also declined the property, the size of the property and the owners.
Before the discussion ever occurred, Ortiz said he talked to the city attorney about whether he would have a conflict of interest because his employer is across the street from the property that desires to be de-annexed from the city.
“The City Attorney informed me that there could be a potential conflict of interest for that agenda item later down the line but she did not have enough information, so I recused myself out of an abundance of caution to protect the interests of both the city and the owner of the property,” Ortiz told Uken Report.
The one potential conflict is not going to silence him on the issue of cannabis.
“I will still be able to participate in discussions regarding cannabis policies, but there will be some exceptions if any discussions involve projects which I am already involved in” Ortiz said. “I intend to fully comply with the state law provisions regarding conflicts of interests and will work closely with the City Attorney as these items come forward.”
Ortiz said he is actively engaged in sharing his perspective on why Indio can benefit from responsible cannabis policies.
“I’m focusing on how we can bring in the industry in a way that will bring us the most benefits in terms of community health, small business growth, and affordability for local patients,” Ortiz said. “When paired with responsible education, cannabis can be a great medicinal tool and it is changing the way many people see medicine. It helps many of us get back to our family’s traditional ways of dealing with illnesses.”
Ortiz added, “That being said, we must also implement policies that will pave the way for affordable products and local ownership. If locals can’t afford the medicine or afford to get licensed, then we are not providing adequate policy.”
During his 2018 City Council campaign, Ortiz was an outspoken advocate of the cannabis industry. He said he has worked in the industry for the past five years, focusing on the chemical composition of cannabis products.
Unlike other cities in the Coachella Valley — Cathedral City, Palm Springs, Desert Hot Springs and Coachella – Indio has kept the door closed to cannabis cultivation. At least until now.
With Ortiz and Waymond Fermon elected to the City Council in November that could all change.