Draft pot dispensary ordinance too restrictive, advocates say

March 28, 2010

Edward Sifuentes, North County Times

Proposed new rules would make it tough to open medical marijuana dispensaries anywhere in unincorporated San Diego County, advocates for cannabis-using patients said. Under a proposed county ordinance released for public review earlier this month, medical marijuana dispensaries, or collectives, would be prohibited within 1,000 feet of residential parcels, schools, playgrounds, parks, churches, recreational centers and other marijuana dispensaries.

That rule would eliminate all but a few areas in the unincorporated areas of the county, according to county documents.

"It is, effectively, a ban," said Eugene Davidovich, a medical marijuana advocate and spokesman for San Diego Americans for Safe Access.

The proposed ordinance also includes other requirements that advocates say would violate patient privacy rules, such as giving law enforcement officers access to patient lists and security video tapes.

People have until Friday to comment on the draft ordinance. The county planning commission has scheduled a tentative hearing for May 14.

Among other things, the ordinance would require that:

-- transactions be "fully visible from the public street";

-- video cameras be installed;

-- video recordings be accessible to law enforcement;

-- transaction records and membership records be kept;

-- transaction, membership and other records be made available for inspection by the Sheriff's Department.

Those regulations are aimed at making sure the collectives comply with state law, said Joe Farace, a county planning manager in charge of formulating the draft ordinance.

The ordinance was drafted within the planning department with recommendations from the Sheriff's Department and the county's attorney, Farace said.

The proposed ordinance would also ban advertising or signs in front of the establishments, require shatter-resistant glass, sprinkler systems and a uniformed security guard.

No one under age 18 would be allowed into the establishments without a parent, doctor or guardian, and business hours would be restricted to between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m., according to the draft ordinance.

Last year, the county Board of Supervisors implemented a moratorium on medical marijuana collectives while administrators developed an ordinance to regulate pot providers.

For several years, the Board of Supervisors fought the state's 1996 medical marijuana law.

The supervisors unsuccessfully challenged the law all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which declined to hear an appeal.

After hitting a legal dead end, the board agreed to start implementing the state's medical marijuana ID program and began writing the ordinance to regulate marijuana collectives.

Some medical marijuana advocates said they would prefer that the county put its health department -- not the sheriff's department -- in charge of overseeing the establishments.

"It's bad enough having an agency accessing information about patients, but to have that information accessible to law enforcement is extremely problematic," said Kris Hermes, a spokesman for Americans for Safe Access, a medical marijuana advocacy group in Oakland.

In recent years, authorities have shut down numerous dispensaries, including 14 in September.

Authorities said the dispensaries did not comply with state law and served as little more than fronts for illegal drug sales.

Local medical marijuana advocates said the raids show county authorities have little interest in regulating the establishments and are focused only on shutting them down.

However, one former dispensary owner called it a sign of progress that the county is drafting an ordinance.

Bob Riedel's Mother Earth Alternative Healing Cooperative Inc., a medical marijuana dispensary in Fallbrook, was shuttered Feb. 5 because it didn't have a permit to operate in San Diego County.

"Overall, I think it's a step in the right direction," Riedel said.

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