Mayor, city attorney lock horns over marijuana
January 08, 2013
Craig Gustafson, San Diego Union-TribuneSAN DIEGO — Mayor Bob Filner said he’ll work over the next few weeks to create an ordinance that allows medical marijuana dispensaries to operate within city limits and then told an enthusiastic crowd in favor of safe access to the drug that he’ll stand beside them in their legal battles. What Filner apparently didn’t realize during his comments late Tuesday is that he has sole authority to drop the city’s civil cases against dispensary owners.
Filner criticized the prosecutions against dispensary owners by District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis and U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy but saved his harshest criticism for City Attorney Jan Goldsmith, who is in charge of prosecuting city code violations (current zoning codes don’t allow for dispensaries).
“The city attorney has not been, what shall I say, very helpful,” Filner said of Goldsmith’s targeting of dispensaries. “He has not accepted the fact that he is the attorney and the city is the client.”
Later, in an exchange with a medical marijuana advocate, Filner made a derogatory reference to Goldsmith. “Between the two of us, and you know he’s a little guy, maybe we can intimidate,” Filner said.
Goldsmith responded Wednesday with a letter to Filner explaining that if he wants to halt prosecutions he should give written direction to police and code enforcement officers.
“Rather than pursue the drama last night and call for a demonstration, you could have achieved your goal in less than 30 seconds,” Goldsmith wrote. “Neighborhood Code Compliance and San Diego Police Department are under your authority. As you know, you can direct them to stop sending cases to us and, instead, direct us to cease and dismiss all enforcement actions against marijuana dispensaries. We will, of course, comply with that direction.”
Goldsmith added, “Until that happens (and there has been no official indication it has), our office is obligated to review any cases we receive from Neighborhood Code Compliance for possible enforcement action.”
Filner didn’t respond to a request for comment Wednesday. Medical marijuana advocates posted a 36-minute video of Filner’s Q&A session with the group.
Tuesday’s episode was the second time that day Filner had challenged a fellow elected official. At the City Council meeting, Filner and Council President Todd Gloria got into a dispute over proposed appointments to the San Diego Association of Governments board. Filner repeatedly interrupted Gloria and a deputy city attorney before insisting Gloria leave the dais so the two could discuss the matter privately. Gloria complied and the vote was delayed until Monday. Filner later apologized to the council for his outbursts.
More than 200 medical marijuana collectives have been closed down in San Diego and Imperial counties since Duffy and her colleagues announced in 2011 sweeping enforcement actions aimed at distributors in California. Some closures were attributed to settlements with the City Attorney’s Office — before and after medical marijuana activists in the city failed to qualify a regulate-and-tax initiative for the November ballot.
The legal limbo for dispensaries dates to 1996 when state voters approved an initiative to allow people with recommendations from state-licensed physicians to possess and cultivate marijuana for personal use. The drug remains illegal under federal law and any change in city policy would not have direct impact on the U.S. attorneys’ crackdown.
Efforts to provide city regulations for dispensaries have failed. The City Council approved an ordinance in 2011 that outlined where they could operate, but it was quickly repealed after a successful signature drive by advocates seeking looser restrictions.
Now there’s hope among advocates that Filner will breathe life back into the effort.
Eugene Davidovich, a member of the San Diego chapter of Americans for Safe Access, called it a historic occasion for Filner to appear at the group’s event Tuesday.
“We’ve never had a sitting mayor attend one of our meetings so we were very excited, pleased and honored to have him with us,” he said. “We were very pleased with his comments, as you can imagine, and very much optimistic that we can this year get an ordinance in front of City Council, one that the entire community can support.”
Filner urged those in attendance to hold demonstrations at court hearings and pledged to testify in their defense. He also promised to talk to police Chief William Lansdowne about the crackdown on dispensaries though he laid most of the blame on prosecutors.
“I will talk with our police chief,” Filner said. “You know when they wrote the strong mayor form of government, they weren’t thinking of me. And guess who hires the police chief?”
Lansdowne was out of town and unavailable for comment, according to police spokeswoman Lt. Andra Brown. Duffy declined to comment through a spokeswoman.
Scott Chipman, co-founder of San Diegans for Safe Neighborhoods, which opposes medical marijuana, said he was disappointed but not surprised by Filner’s comments and challenged him to examine how detrimental dispensaries are to their surrounding areas in terms of crime, drug use and property values.
“The proliferation of over 220 stores selling marijuana in our communities was a serious threat to public safety and quality of life in our communities,” he said. “While these stores were open we saw an increase of drug trafficking on the streets, assaults, break-ins and robberies near the stores. To indicate that the city will not prosecute illegal businesses selling an illegal drug is a mistake and an invitation for those illegal businesses and crime to re-proliferate.”