San Diego's medicinal-pot people mellow

June 18, 2013

Joshua Emerson Smith, San Diego City Beat

The businesses in San Diego that specialize in distributing medicinal cannabis have taken a decidedly less combative tone when it comes to dealing with city leaders.

Many still remember the bitter fight in 2011 that culminated in a City Council repeal of its own zoning ordinance that, while heavily restrictive, would have allowed dispensaries to operate in parts of the city. After the repeal, the city and federal government cracked down on dispensaries, leaving only a handful operating in the shadows, without express permit to do so.

The trade group Patients Care Association, which spearheaded opposition to the city’s law, is now defunct, and a number of new business associations have popped up in its place.

“I didn’t support the referendum,” said Bob Reidel, a leader with the fledgling United Patient Alliance. “I believe the ordinance was extremely restrictive, but, with it, at least there was a crack in the door.”

Advocacy groups are publicly supporting a new effort by the City Council to revive the 2011 ordinance. “We’ve learned a lot,” said Eugene Davidovich, president of the San Diego chapter of Americans for Safe Access. “We’re moving forward with a less combative mentality and more of a mentality of compromise.”

The council’s resurrected ordinance could end up even more restrictive, reducing the number of places where dispensaries can set up shop. However, city leaders might be willing to consider the community’s concerns.

“I believe there is a will among the City Council to adopt a reasonable ordinance that provides safe access to medical marijuana for legitimate patients and balances the needs of the surrounding neighborhoods,” said Council President Todd Gloria.

To address claims that the zoning ordinance would be a “de-facto ban,” the City Council has asked the Mayor’s office to create a mapping study to determine the square footage available for businesses under the proposal. Members of the medicinal-marijuana community say the results of the study won’t be a deal breaker.

Americans for Safe Access will vocally oppose any effort to repeal a future ordinance, Davidovich said. “A lot of the folks that were here for a fly-by-night operation are no longer here. The folks that have remained in town are the folks that are in it for the long haul, that want to see safe access.”

Mayor Bob Filner’s mapping study and analysis will be completed within the next four weeks, according to his staff. Filner’s also reconvening, for the first time in months, his medical-cannabis stakeholder advisory group.

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