The San Diego City Council on Monday approved comprehensive medical marijuana regulations that will force more than 165 dispensaries to shut down soon and apply for operating permits.
San Diego became the 43rd city in the state to pass sweeping limitations on collectives, which have mushroomed at a speed that has staggered city officials and drawn the ire of some neighborhoods.
The new San Diego restrictions, which are somewhat more lenient than originally proposed, leave unclear how many dispensaries will eventually be able to operate. But virtually all say there will be far fewer than now exist.
In a 5-2 vote, councilmembers said the regulations would provide direction to police and code enforcement officers as they struggle to regulate the dispensaries that have been operating in an unfettered environment. Councilmembers Carl DeMaio and Lorie Zapf voted against the restrictions, contending they weren't strong enough. Councilman David Alvarez was absent.
Todd Gloria, Marti Emerald, Kevin Faulconer, Sherri Lightner and Tony Young voted in favor of the new policies.
The regulations, approved after five hours of public testimony Monday and 2 1/2 years of debate, are meant to help the city transition out of a tumultuous period in which collectives were vulnerable to raids and arrests. They would limit dispensaries to some commercial and industrial zones and require an extensive approval process for conditional use permits.
Cooperatives would have to be at least 600 feet from each other as well as schools, playgrounds, libraries, childcare and youth facilities, parks and churches. They also would have limited business hours and mandatory security guards.
Gloria, who successfully pushed to reduce the 1,000-foot barrier, argued that it would have forced cooperatives out of neighborhoods most supportive of them, namely Ocean Beach and Hillcrest.
"It would hurt the sickest patients the most because they're the ones who are unable to travel long distances for their medication," he said.
He also expressed disappointment with the lack of a grace period for existing dispensaries, which will be forced to shutter 30 days after the ordinance is ratified, which could happen in about a month. Officials estimated it would take at least a year for a collective to move through the approval process.
DeMaio complained that the city's costs to enforce the ordinance are unknown, even though officials say they plan to charge fees to recover any costs. He also said many people are now getting marijuana for recreational use from collectives and suggested that would continue under the city's new rules.
Young said conflicting state and federal laws also add to the difficulty.
"We're trying to make these decisions based on a very important part of our governmental structure that does not believe that they should exist and believes that we are actually breaking the law," he said, referring to the federal government.
The placement of dispensaries has been a struggle since the Californians voted to legalize medical marijuana in 1996, but local municipalities did little to regulate them. Chula Vista, Imperial Beach and Oceanside are among the local cities with bans.
More than 200 cities have permanent bans, according to the Coalition for a Drug Free California.
Emerald said the issue of regulating medical marijuana has been raised before the council almost on a weekly basis, with advocates on both sides pleading for rules of the road.
"This goes a long way toward protecting neighborhoods and protecting the rights of patients who need very desperately their medicine," she said.
None of the collectives could be grandfathered in under the approved policy, leading advocates to contend it amounts to a de facto ban when combined with the county's zoning laws. Just a handful of applications were submitted to open dispensaries in unincorporated areas since the Board of Supervisors approved a set of regulations in June.
The fact that collectives would have to close and apply for a new permit will force patients to turn to pharmaceuticals or the black market for relief from their ailments, said Ben Cisneros, a senior organizer with Stop the Ban.
Asked the Rev. Canon Mary Moreno Richardson of St. Paul's Episcopal Cathedral: "Where are they supposed to go?"
Medical marijuana advocates pressed the council to relax restrictions on locations along with the proposed approval process.
John Murphy, an attorney representing patient's associations, called the whole process "extremely onerous." "If it effectively bans medical marijuana, there will be a proliferation of lawsuits that the city cannot afford," Murphy said.
The Development Services Department indicated the cost of a permit could range from $25,000 to $35,000, depending on the level of controversy and associated appeals. ( The typical rate for staff time is about $140 to $170 an hour ).
Dispensaries could be required to pay a one-time permit fee and obtain a license, certificate or annual permit.
Council members asked the Mayor's Office to return in 30 days with a cost-recovery plan to implement the regulations.
Among cities, 43 have regulations, 90 have temporary moratoriums and 214 have bans, according to the Coalition for a Drug Free California.
Councilwoman Zapf estimated that as much as 90 percent of the possible vacant sites in the proposed zones were in her district.
"A pot district?" she said. "I can't support that."
Others cited spiraling crime statistics and the ability for the non-ailing to get their hands on medical marijuana.
"Doctors are supposed to screen out drug abusers. Most do their best," said Scott Chipman chairman of San Diegans for Safe Neighborhoods. "But in California, Colorado and Montana a handful of doctors decided to get rich off marijuana and they write almost all the marijuana prescriptions."
The prospect of this worried William Penick, chairman of the Skyline-Paradise Hills Community Planning Group.
"We understand the needs of the chronically ill," Penick said. "But we also know the needs for public safety of our community, children, schools and churches."
The council is expected to take a final vote on the ordinances in the coming weeks.
RULES FOR MEDICAL POT STORES
All cooperatives, collectives and dispensaries must have a valid permit.
Dispensaries will only be allowed in some commercial or industrial zones.
Cooperatives must be at least 600 feet from each other, schools, playgrounds, libraries, child care and youth facilities, parks and churches.
Hours of operation will be limited from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. seven days a week.
A licensed security guard must be on the premises during business hours.
Dispensaries must show proof that they are nonprofit entities.
Those responsible for a cooperative must undergo fingerprinting to be kept on file with the city.
Anyone convicted of a violent felony or a crime of moral turpitude in the last seven years cannot operate a cooperative.
If requested, collectives must provide to the city an audit of their operations for the previous year.
Permitting costs may be recovered by the city.
Cooperative must ensure edible products containing medical marijuana comply with packaging and labeling requirements.
NewsHawk: Jim Behr: 420 MAGAZINE
Source: San Diego Union Tribune (CA)
Copyright: 2011 Union-Tribune Publishing Co.
Details: MAP: Media Directory
Author: Christopher Cadelago