San Diego council gives final OK to pot restrictions
April 11, 2011
Chris Cadelago, San Diego Union-Tribune
Over the din of civil disobedience, the San Diego City Council Tuesday signed off on a pair of tough new ordinances that require an estimated 165 medical marijuana dispensaries to shutter their storefronts within a month and apply for operating permits.
As council members prepared a vote to ratify sweeping limitations on collectives, dozens of medical marijuana advocates approached the dais, linked their arms and sang “We Shall Overcome.” Several of the demonstrators, wearing t-shirts urging the council to “Stop the Ban,” refused police orders to move.
The council returned within a few minutes and voted 5-2. Five of the demonstrators stayed even after the council adjourned, saying they wanted to be the first arrested under the “illegal” ordinance. Instead, they left after about two hours.
It is unclear how many dispensaries would eventually be able to operate under the new rules, though most involved believe it would be far fewer than exist today. The permit process could take more than a year, depending on the amount of opposition.
Although some council members were open to renew debate over controversial aspects of the rules, the majority of their colleagues pressed hard for a vote. Opposing the measures were council members Lorie Zapf, who has said they don’t go far enough, and David Alvarez, who said they went too far.
Councilman Carl DeMaio, who was present for morning testimony, was absent for the vote. Todd Gloria, Marti Emerald, Kevin Faulconer, Tony Young and Sherri Lightner voted in favor of the new policies.
Collectives have mushroomed at a velocity that has confounded city officials and touched a nerve with some neighborhoods. The two city ordinances would limit dispensaries to some commercial and industrial zones. Cooperatives would have to be at least 600 feet from each other as well as schools, playgrounds, libraries, child care and youth facilities, parks and churches.
They also must operate as nonprofits, have curtailed business hours and hire security guards.
Proponents contended that the regulations would provide direction to police and code enforcement officers as they struggle to clamp controls on dispensaries that have been operating in an unregulated environment.
“If you want this to be illegal we could all go home,” Emerald told the crowd, many of whom were gathered since 10 a.m. “Instead we have a great opportunity to start off, I think, in a very strong position.
“For those who say this is a ban, you’re dead wrong,” she continued. “I look at the maps and there are commercial and industrial areas in just about every district of the city.”
Gloria said while the legislation was more restrictive than he would have liked, it was the result of a two-year public process. “Politics is very much about what is possible, and what is possible is the motion that was made last hearing and the motion I will make again,” he said.
Opponents asserted that patients and providers should not be zoned into far-flung commercial and industrial areas of the city and forced into protracted compliance processes.
They implored the council to adopt a two-year compliance period for existing collectives; allow storefronts in all commercial and industrial areas; reduce the proximity restriction to 600 feet from schools and amend the approval process to mirror that of pharmacies.
“It’s OK to take one more week, two more weeks, to get it right, and to put medical cannabis collectives and cooperatives in the appropriate places for patients,” said Don Duncan, state director for Americans for Safe Access.
Donna Lambert, a cancer survivor and longtime medical marijuana advocate, said all zoning should be used to expand patient access and not used to hinder or undermine state law.
“This restrictive zoning and permitting process is an elitist model that plays right into the hands of wealthy pot investors waiting to move in on San Diego with their exclusive license to sell, keeping prices high and continuing their pot monopolies,” Lambert said.
State voters approved marijuana for medical use in 1996, but most municipalities were slow to establish clear rules.
At least 50,000 people living in the county have doctors’ recommendations for medical marijuana, according to the San Diego chapter of Americans for Safe Access. Some 700 of them have active medical marijuana identification cards meant to shield qualified patients from criminal prosecution.