The San Diego City Council on Monday approved restrictive new medical marijuana regulations that will force more than 165 dispensaries in the city to close in the near future and apply for permits to operate.
The new restrictions, slightly more lenient than originally proposed, don’t specify how many dispensaries will eventually be allowed to operate. But almost everyone says there will be fewer shops than now exist, reducing safe access for patients in the city.
Council members decided in a 5-2 vote that the regulations would “provide direction” to police and code enforcement officers. Council members Carl DeMaio and Lorie Zapf voted against the restrictions — but not because they were too strict. They thought they weren’t strong enough!
|San Diego City Councilman Todd Gloria: “It would hurt the sickest patients the most because they’re the ones who are unable to travel long distances for their medication”
Councilman David Alvarez wasn’t present for the vote. Todd Gloria, Marti Emerald, Kevin Faulconer, Sherri Lightner and Tony Young voted in favor of the restrictions.
The local medical marijuana community turned out by the hundreds for the City Council meeting at which the restrictive ordinance was approved. The City Council chambers were filled to capacity at the start of the afternoon meeting, and a second room was set up for those unable to find seats inside the main chamber, reports Esther Rubio-Sheffrey at the LaJolla Patch. After five hours of debate, the regulations were approved.
The rules limit dispensaries to a few commercial and industrial zones, and require an extensive and onerous approval process for conditional use permits.
Cooperatives are required to be at least 600 feet away from each other as well as from schools, playgrounds, libraries, childcare and youth facilities, parks and churches. They will be required to limit their business hours and hire security guards.
Councilman Gloria, who successfully pushed to have a 1,000-foot limit reduced to 600 feet, argued that the greater limit would have forced dispensaries 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,” Gloria said.
Gloria also said he was disappointed with the lack of a grace period for existing dispensaries, which will be forced to close just 30 days after the ordinance is ratified. City officials estimated it would take at least a year for dispensaries to get through the extensive approval process. That means for a period of at least 11 months, patients in San Diego will have no safe and legal access to medical marijuana.
None of the collectives can be grandfathered in under the approved regulations, leading advocates to contend it amounts to a de facto ban when combined with San Diego County’s zoning laws. Only a handful of applications were submitted to operate dispensaries in unincorporated areas of the county since the Board of Supervisors approved a strict set of regulations in June.
The fact that existing dispensaries will be forced to close and apply for new permits will mean patients will even turn to harsh pharmaceuticals or to black market marijuana for their ailments, according to Ben Cisneros, a senior organizer with Stop The Ban.
“Where are they supposed to go?” asked Rev. Canon Mary Moreno Richarddson of St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral.
The whole process is “extremely onerous,” according to John Murphy, an attorney who represents patients’ associations. “If it effectively bans medical marijuana, there will be a proliferation of lawsuits that the city cannot afford,” Murphy said.
Permits aren’t going to be cheap, either. The cost of a medical marijuana permit could range from $25,000 to $35,000, depending on “the level of controversy and associated appeals,” according to the Development Services Department. The typical rate for staff time is about $140 to $170 an hour.
Among the other rules in the ordinance:
• Dispensries must show proof that they are nonprofit entities.
• Operators must have fingerprints 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.
• Edible products containing medical marijuana must comply with packaging and labeling requirements.
“Today we were able to bring a historic number of people to the city council meeting, over the last month we have collected and sent in over 3,700 letters of opposition, as well as have continuously lobbied the council members, and still we ended up with an ordinance that does not nearly go far enough to protect the rights of patients,” said Eugene Davidovich of the San Diego chapter of Americans for Safe Access
The council is expected to take a final vote on the regulations in the coming weeks.