CA: La Mesa City Council Denies Appeal, Allows First Medical Cannabis Business

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La Mesa’s first medical marijuana dispensary should be up and running by July.

The City Council on March 27 unanimously upheld a decision by the Planning Commission to issue a permit to business owner Sean McDermott to operate a dispensary on Center Street. In doing so, the council rejected an appeal filed by another potential dispensary proprietor, Thomas Perkins.

“I was pretty nervous, we had a lot on the line,” McDermott said following the vote. “The City Council did the absolute right thing backing the hard work and effort its staff put forward to make a recommendation to approve any licensee, let alone myself. To get it to the level of approval, a lot had to happen. They saw it and the Planning Commission saw it.”

Like all planned collectives, the one that is opening at 8155 Center St. had to meet stringent conditions, such as distances from parks, playgrounds, schools and other dispensaries. It also had to meet operational and security requirements, such as offering enough parking and and allowing firetrucks to turn around at the premises in case of an emergency.

Attorney Gina Austin, who represents several people who are hoping to open dispensaries in La Mesa, had filed an appeal with the city on behalf of Perkins. Perkins had applied to open a dispensary within 1,000 feet of McDermott’s, which the city ruled was too close.

Austin’s appeal challenged information on McDermott’s application, alleging illegal construction activity, inaccessibility for wheelchair users and unmet parking requirements.

Community Developent Director Kerry Kusiak refuted all of Austin’s claims about McDermott’s building, saying it passed site inspections and access requirements.

“There was a very valiant effort to throw multicolored smokescreens in the air,” McDermott said. “The City Council was listening and saw through the rhetoric.”

Austin also told the City Council that the city is not processing dispensary applications in accordance with established procedures. City Attorney Glenn Sabine told Austin the city’s process for handling medical marijuana dispensaries is legal.

He explained that in January 2017, in response to the large crowd that showed up at City Hall to apply for a permit to operate a dispensary, the city handed out sealed papers awarding numbers to those in line based on their place in line.

Some dispensaries have been pushed ahead of others despite having lower numbers because their applications have been deemed by the city as ready to move forward, having also already met Measure U requirements as well as the 88 conditions requested by the city.

McDermott said he is hopeful that his dispensary will be operational by July 1.

“There’s still a lot of work to do to get ready,” he said.

McDermott also has a hearing in Lemon Grove in mid-May for a dispensary he is hoping to open up in that city. Voters in both La Mesa and Lemon Grove passed laws in 2016 allowing for the sales of medical marijuana.