In 1996, California voters legalized medical marijuana for qualified patients and caregivers. Nearly two decades have passed, and the city of San Diego has yet to enact an ordinance which would regulate medical marijuana dispensaries, and provide the guidelines by which they could legally open.
In nearly four hours of testimonies given by dozens of San Diego citizens on Monday, the eight sitting City Council members heard arguments given both in favor of, and against, Mayor Bob Filner's new proposed ordinance to allow for the legal and regulated re-opening of medical marijuana dispensaries in America's Finest City.
The Council started the meeting by praising the Mayor and his staff for the work that they had done in drafting the proposed ordinance. City Council President, Todd Gloria noted that, "to a member", they each believed in the validity of marijuana as a medication, or else they would not even be having the debate. He asked that the discussion remain focused on the mayor's proposed ordinance, and ways to improve it, or reasons for outright opposition for it. A representative of the mayor's office gave a brief slideshow presentation to highlight the details of the proposed plan and with that, the microphone was opened to the public.
At that moment, the Mayor arrived, and was the first to speak after a raucous applause from the chamber was quieted. In his statement, he said, "We have a balance. A balance on one hand, of people who are suffering from pain, from illness, whose doctors have prescribed medical marijuana...and I know many of you, and I, have talked to hundreds of patients where this is the one drug that has helped them. I think that we have an obligation to provide access just on that humanitarian impulse. On the other hand, we know that there are neighborhoods, there are parents who are concerned about the ill effects of establishing legal access to marijuana."
Filner was followed, one by one, by citizens in favor of safe access to medical marijuana in San Diego, who stepped up to the lectern and addressed the City Council armed with facts and well-reasoned points of discussion. They came in wheelchairs and on canes, in three piece suits and blue jeans, citing studies about crime reduction in areas with dispensaries, the potential financial benefits that the city could expect, and plea after plea for a reasonable set of laws and guidelines to follow.
A spokesperson for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), representing more than 90,000 retired and active duty law enforcement agents and litigators, expressed his group's support for the Mayor's ordinance, as written. According to LEAP, over 16 billion dollars in illegal weed sales took place in California last year alone - earning local governments exactly zero tax dollars.
Far outnumbered were those opposed to the new ordinance, most of them religious groups, soccer moms, and senior citizens who seemed to be against any form of medical marijuana distribution, most often shielding their arguments with their "concern for the children".
The majority of their talking points were incredibly misinformed - one man rambled incessantly about nobody being able to define a "commercial zone" versus a "residential zone", even though the color-coded zoning maps from the Mayor's proposal had been shown and discussed just minutes earlier. Many spoke of hearing a rumor or a story about another mom finding little green pill bottles in their kid's friend's backpack. Some armchair M.D.'s claimed to have seen "perfectly healthy people" go in and out of local dispensaries.
One man even faced a wall of "BOO!" and "SHAME ON YOU!" from the passionate crowd as he returned to his seat after having compared all marijuana smokers to Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and Columbine gunman Dylan Klebold. A sparse few of the "Against" speakers were not totally opposed to the new ordinance, but offered constructive criticism and possible amendments to the language that could satisfy them or their cause - such as requesting that drug and alcohol recovery centers be added to the list of "sensitive" zones, like elementary schools.
Having heard all in favor and all opposed, Councilman Gloria reiterated the purpose of the Council meeting that afternoon; to discuss the new ordinance proposal drafted and presented by Mayor Bob Filner and his staff. But almost before he could get the words out of his mouth, District 9 Councilmember Marti Emerald blurted out a motion to move forward in drafting a new medical marijuana ordinance for the city, but to use a terribly restrictive, voter-repealed ordinance plan from 2011 as the "template" for the new plan.
An audible groan came from the chamber as supporters of safe access just saw all of their hard work and impassioned pleas ignored and pushed aside in favor of what was already deemed in 2011 to be a failure.
Hours of testimony by those who could attend the meeting in person, months of work and compromise by the Mayor's office, and years of hopes and efforts of San Diego medical marijuana patients were nullified in a decisive, and completely tone-deaf two minute motion by Emerald. Perhaps forgetful of what exactly went down in 2011, the seven remaining Councilmembers approved the motion, effectively shredding the Mayor's proposal before the ink was dry.
It was in 2011, when San Diego had well over 200 medical marijuana storefronts in operation that the City Council decided that they needed to lay down a law of some sort, to curb the rapid expansion of retail weed outlets, and quell the alleged fears and complaints of a very loud minority of their constituents.
A Medical Marijuana Task Force had been created, community groups were consulted, studies were run, but ultimately, the San Diego City Council ignored the recommendations of their own Task Force (shocker, huh?) and drafted an incredibly restrictive ordinance that critics argued was, in fact, a "de facto ban on all storefront dispensaries".
With the ordinance set to become the new law of the land, local pro-cannabis advocacy groups rallied to stop it, gathering over 30,000 signatures in 30 days to force the City Council into deciding between a costly public vote that they would probably lose, or repealing its own draconian ordinance. They begrudgingly chose the latter, putting San Diego medical marijuana patients, and the 200+ dispensaries, back in legal limbo with no ordinance whatsoever.
In a statement issued to City News Service, Filner said he was disappointed with the results of the meeting, but remained optimistic that the Council would still see the light, saying, "We'll see what they come up with. They're going to start with it, and make changes. Hopefully, they'll come to the same conclusions I did.''
Walking into Monday's thrice-delayed City Council meeting - a meeting that was called specifically to consider the Mayor's proposal for the future of medical marijuana in San Diego - advocates and patients were also feeling pretty optimistic. Instead, partisan politics won the day, and the City Council's grand vision of the future apparently starts 36 months in the past.
Feeling pretty good about herself, having just completely dissed one of her largest political "rivals" in San Diego Mayor Bob Filner, District 9 City Councilmember Marti Emerald wasn't quite done making headlines. She brought Monday's contentious City Council medical marijuana ordinance meeting to a close with a bang, insisting that any dispensaries currently operating in San Diego be issued a 'cease and desist' letter, and demanding that the Mayor's office enforce it - immediately.
Surely still shell-shocked at the blatant lack of respect or professional courtesy, with the tatters of their neglected ordinance proposal at their feet, one of the Mayor's staff replied, "So you want us to enforce a lack of regulation?"
Emerald fired back: "No, I want you to enforce the law."
After the meeting, Ken Cole the President of the United Patient's Alliance and owner of One on One Patient's Association, a downtown San Diego dispensary, told TheWeedBlog.com, "The public has spoken, and they do not want a ban. They do not want patients to have to drive to far flung industrial areas for their medicine. And this already repealed ordinance does exactly that - it forces patients to industrial areas with no public transportation. It is completely against the spirit of safe, local, access championed by Mayor Filner."
Early yesterday morning, less than 24 hours after the City Council's meeting, Cole's 6th Avenue dispensary was raided by a joint task force made up of both San Diego County Sheriffs and DEA agents. The glass entry door was demolished and several employees were detained inside. Cole, a 2-time Olympic basketball coach, bone cancer patient, and insulin dependent diabetic, was not onsite when the raid occurred.
While protestors gathered in front of the iconic shop peppering agents with chants of "Hurting patients - Causing tears - It's been legal for 17 years!" and legitimate questions about who ordered local resources to be used on a Federal raid, a concurrent operation by the NTF (Narcotics Task Force) was underway in San Diego's North County, raiding suspected marijuana growing operations in local homes and businesses.
Speaking from home, Cole told reporters that cash, marijuana, and computer and security systems were being confiscated from the downtown cannabis clinic. "This is [federal] retaliation for yesterday," Cole says. "This is straight retaliation for the City Council meeting."
In all, 10 warrants were served and roughly 1000 pot plants were seized in the round-up, reported DEA spokesperson, Amy Roderick. According to the DEA, the additional warrant searches and seizures are indeed connected to the raid at One on One, but they declined any further comment on the matter.
As of this report, no arrests have been made, but the investigation is ongoing.