Pot dispensary issue looms over city and county
January 18, 2011
Christopher Cadelago, San Diego Union-Tribune
The clash over medical marijuana dispensaries in San Diego will reach a high point with the city and county in the coming weeks.
The city’s Planning Commission on Thursday will consider both sides of the medical marijuana debate before forwarding a recommendation to the City Council, which will ultimately decide where dispensaries can be located within the city limits.
Last year, San Diego became the 10th county in the state to regulate medical marijuana stores, restricting dispensaries to an estimated 16 sites in unincorporated stretches of the region.
The county’s Planning Commission on Friday is scheduled to weigh various technical amendments. On Tuesday, Sheriff Bill Gore will ask the Board of Supervisors to establish a fee to regulate collectives. It could also limit deliveries and permit fingerprinting and FBI clearance for operator’s to become certified.
Assistant Sheriff Ed Prendergast said the proposed annual fee of $11,017 reflects the cost incurred by sheriffs to investigate and complete inspections.
“We felt the operators of collectives should pay,” Prendergast said.
Where to allow dispensaries has been a struggle since state voters legalized medical marijuana in 1996, but local municipalities did little to regulate them. The boom of dispensaries in recent years brought the issue into the spotlight, forcing local governments to seek more comprehensive solutions.
The approximate 180 dispensaries in the City of San Diego are all technically illegal since they do not fit in with any approved zoning uses. None of them will be grandfathered in regardless of the city’s final policy, leading dispensary supporters worry about a de facto ban when both the county and city have their zoning ordinances.
Twelve of California’s 58 counties ban medical marijuana dispensaries outright, an increase of 10 in the last two years. Fourteen have temporary moratoriums in place as they consider their options, according to Americans for Safe Access, an advocacy group for medical marijuana.
Among cities, 41 have ordinances regulating dispensaries, 103 have temporary moratoriums and 142 have bans.
Roger Morgan, executive director of Coalition for a Drug-Free California, said regulations of dispensaries are so lenient that anyone 18 years or older with an identification card could stock up on pot and sell to children.
“The regulations that exist now are so loose that they are ridiculous.” Morgan said.
The city rules as they currently stand dictate collectives must be at least 1,000 feet from schools, day-care centers, religious institutions, youth centers, parks and other dispensaries. Additionally, the dispensaries must be located in specific industrial and commercial zones.
Americans for Safe Access San Diego chapter coordinator Eugene Davidovich said his organization has looked closely at the restrictions and found five or six parcels that could allow dispensaries, but there is no guarantee those landlords would allow operators to open up shop.
“San Diegans want safe access, not a ban,” he said. “We need to forget the politics and remember this is about the patients.”
Medical marijuana prescriptions can be obtained for a number of ailments including migraines, arthritis, insomnia, epilepsy and cancer.
The Rev. John Bombaro of Grace Lutheran Church, and Scott Chipman, the chairman of San Diegans for Safe Neighborhoods led a group of concerned citizens that want the city’s Planning Commission to ramp up the restrictions on the proposed city ordinance. While some say the current ordinance is a de facto ban on the stores within city limits, Bombaro and Chipman are calling on city leaders to make even tighter restrictions.
“The people represented here believe that unregulated marijuana retail outlets jeopardize the public health and safety across San Diego,” Bombaro said. “Currently, these retailers are operating in a police vacuum.”
They want the city keep its current guidelines as well as keep the dispensaries to require 24-hour security and a police-regulated business permit. Also, they would want the shops to be at least 1,000 feet away from colleges, universities, residences, licensed treatment facilities and alcohol outlets.
After the Planning Commission determines its recommendation, the City Council will make its final decision. Should Americans for Safe Access deem the restrictions too strict, Davidovich said they are prepared to create a ballot initiative with looser guidelines.