San Diego City Planning Commission to Vote on Dispensary Ordinance

By: Eugene Davidovich, San Diego Americans for Safe Access

Patients and Advocates concerned ordinance headed towards ban rather than reasonable regulation.

On January 20th the City of San Diego’s Planning Commission will be discussing and voting on a recommendation to the City Council to approve an ordinance limiting medical marijuana dispensaries in the City of San Diego to certain industrial and limited commercial zones.

Out of almost one hundred possible zoning categories in the city’s municipal code if the ordinance passes unchanged, the current limitations would allow dispensaries only in five specific zones within the city’s limits; IL-1-3, IS-1-1, CC-2-1, CC-2-2, and CC-2-3.

Facilities lucky enough to find friendly landlords in those five zones, would be faced with another challenge; finding friendly landlords whose properties are located at least 1,000 feet away from schools, playgrounds, libraries, child care facilities, youth facilities, churches, parks, as well as other dispensaries.

According to the proposed ordinance all dispensaries currently open in the city would be required to shut down, as the ordinance considers everyone open prior to its passage, out of compliance by default. Those who want to continue to provide safe access to patients in their current locations would have to apply for a process 4 conditional use permit (CUP). Process 4 is one of the most restrictive and expensive (15k-50k) licensing processes the city can force an organization to go through. Under a process four, each application would have to be heard by the planning commission as well as the city council on appeal.

Under Process 4, not only would safe access be unduly restricted for patients in the city, but every dispensary application would turn into a political battle that would require city council’s vote on each application. While the political wrangling goes on in City Hall, those patients who need this medicine most would have to go without.

Even on the surface this proposal does not appear to be a compromise, nor is it a regulation addressing patients’ needs. The proposed ordinance is nothing but a ban attempting to be passed off as a regulation.

There is still a chance to turn this around. The roadmap to a reasonable compromise is already spelled out in the report presented by city staff to the planning commission. Aside from the overly restrictive ordinance, the report includes numerous alternatives and recommendations from The Medical Marijuana Task Force, the Code Monitoring Team, as well as the Community Planners Committee all of whom prior to making their recommendations heard testimony from hundreds of patients and community members on the issue.

The San Diego Medical Marijuana Task Force (MMTF) recommended a process 2 CUP for dispensaries with less than 100 members and a process 3 CUP for those with more than 100. The sensitivity buffer of 1,000 feet in the MMTF’s recommendations only applied to schools, playgrounds, libraries, child care facilities and youth facilities, not churches and parks. Also, the separation requirement from other dispensaries recommended by the MMTF was only 500 feet.

The Code Monitoring Team (CMT) also recommended a much more reasonable approach. They suggested that distances from sensitive uses be down to 300 feet, making the restrictions the same as those currently in place for off-site sales of alcohol.

The CMT also recommended that dispensaries be allowed in all commercial zones including those with residential uses, as well as industrial zones that allow retail uses such as pharmacies. With regards to the permitting process, the CMT recommended a process 3.

The Community Planners Committee (CPC) recommendations also included a less restrictive approach. Majority of members of the CPC were extremely concerned that the proposed ordinance bans access in their communities. They actually demanded that every Community Planning Group (CPG) be allowed to grant variances allowing locations in their communities if the overly restrictive ordinance ends up banning or making their neighborhoods “too sensitive” for medical marijuana.

The CPC also recommended that collectives currently open be allowed to continue operating for at least one year following the passage of the ordinance while they are coming into compliance with the new requirements.

The consensus of the San Diego Community is clear. Citizens want safe access to medical marijuana for patients in their communities. They do not want a ban nor do they want to see only a handful of facilities allowed to be open through an overly restrictive and expensive process.

The regulation adopted should allow patients to sort out the number of locations allowed to exist in the city through their patronage or lack thereof, rather than through a zoning cap or de facto ban.

San Diegans see that an ordinance so restrictive that it eradicates reasonable access in our communities would not only create many lawsuits and legal costs for the already cash strapped city, but it would also go directly against the will of California voters and the needs of the many sick and dying patients who rely on this medicine every day.

At the January 20th planning commission meeting, patients, advocates, and concerned citizens will speak out in hopes of convincing the commissioners to listen to the recommendations of the community, the MMTF, the CMT, and the CPC, to help regulate rather than ban safe access in the City of San Diego.

Further Information:
Planning commission’s Agenda for the January 20th Meeting:

Staff Report for the January 20th meeting:

San Diego ASA News Brief about the Planning Commission Meeting:

Planning Commission Meeting Information:
MMJ Ordinance is Agenda Item 10 – January 20th 9am
12th Floor of City Hall – 202 C St. San Diego CA

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