Planning Commission to review county's pot dispensary ordinance

May 06, 2010

Edward Sifuentes, North County Times

The county's Planning Commission on Friday will consider a medical marijuana dispensary ordinance that is markedly stripped down from the draft released in March.

Officials with the county's Department of Planning and Land Use said they decided to break up the earlier, much-criticized proposal into smaller pieces.

The department's new proposal, released Friday, addresses only the zoning elements of the ordinance, including where the dispensaries can be located.

The regulatory aspects, such as licensing, will be addressed in a separate ordinance written by the San Diego County Sheriff's Department, said Joe Farace, a project manager with the Department of Planning and Land Use Department.

"There was no need to take the regulatory portion to the Planning Commission because they don't have the regulatory authority," Farace said.

Eugene Davidovich, a medical marijuana advocate and San Diego County spokesman for the national group Americans for Safe Access, said the new proposal was a little better than the previous one, but that it still has significant problems, especially if the regulating authority remains with the Sheriff's Department.

By restricting medical marijuana dispensaries to industrial areas and having law enforcement regulate them, the county is treating the facilities like strip clubs instead of medical facilities, Davidovich said.

"This isn't an adult entertainment business," he said. "This isn't a police-regulated business. It should be regulated by the health department. The police are not trained in the medical marijuana law."

Medical marijuana advocates, including Davidovich, blasted the earlier proposal because they said the rules would make it next to impossible to open medical marijuana dispensaries anywhere in unincorporated San Diego County.

Critics also said that other provisions of the original draft ordinance would violate patient privacy rules, such as giving law enforcement officers access to patient lists and security videotapes.

The proposal that will be discussed Friday by the Planning Commission would limit medical marijuana facilities to industrial zoned properties and require that the dispensaries be 1,000 feet away from residences, schools, churches, playgrounds and other dispensaries.

Those rules are the same as those in the earlier measure. But other zoning requirements were changed or removed.

For example, a requirement that transactions be "fully visible from the public street" was eliminated, as was a provision that would eliminate all exterior signs.

The Planning Commission can make recommendations on the proposed ordinance during its public meeting May 14, but it will be up to the Board of Supervisors to make the final decision. The proposal will be reviewed in a late June meeting.

California voters legalized medical marijuana in 1996. In August, the county enacted a moratorium on the dispensaries through August 2010.

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