Meet the spike; Pacific Beach mother of two worries that medi-pot shops harm kids

By John R. Lamb, San Diego CITYBEAT
“We can throw stones, complain about them, stumble on them, climb over them, or build with them.”
—William Arthur Ward

Less than a mile from at least eight medical-marijuana collectives, Marcie Beckett lives in the same modest Pacific Beach home she grew up in with six brothers and sisters.

President of her early-’70s graduating class at Mission Bay High School, Beckett went on to a career as a research physiologist at San Diego’s prestigious Naval Health Research Center, focusing her studies on the physical rigors of life in the Navy.

Now a self-proclaimed stay-at-home mom of two high-school teenagers, Beckett uses her scientific background in tackling a controversial local issue that pits a small but vociferous cluster of local residents against the rising tide of public support for a well-regulated medical-marijuana industry in San Diego.

“I think my real main motivating thing here is, I just believe it’s very dangerous for young people, and I just hate to see them get the message that it’s OK and can find it even more readily accessible,” Beckett told Spin Cycle in a phone interview on Memorial Day. “And that’s what I resent.”

She knows she’s garnered the scorn of most in the medical-marijuana-advocacy corner who argue the “child argument” is a smokescreen for an opponent’s true ambition: total abolition. “But I don’t go looking—I’m sure I’m on various websites,” Beckett said.

Throughout the half-hour conversation, Beckett selected her words carefully and shared little about herself—even declining to be photographed for this column. She also seemed surprised that someone from an alternative newsweekly that frequently runs medi-pot advertising would be calling.

At the outset, she couldn’t hide her suspicion. “OK, I know CityBeat’s got a pretty obvious stance on this,” she said. “I don’t want to get sucked in and then skewered.”

Not at all, I assured her. Spin Cycle frequently delves into opinions that it wants to understand more clearly. And the paper, it should be noted, has never endorsed a Wild West mentality when it comes to collectives and cooperatives. Regulations are necessary, no doubt.

No, what intrigued Spin Cycle was the link the Union-Tribune reported last week between a recent spike in community complaints to the city’s Code Compliance office and a subsequent crackdown on numerous medi-pot dispensaries for zoning violations.

One U-T article noted in its later passages that Beckett in April had filed a complaint against 94 individual collectives and cooperatives, alleging that current city zoning law does not permit such uses.

Spin Cycle asked Beckett if she considered herself the “spike,” since the number of complaints to date against such establishments totals more than 100.

“I don’t have any idea,” she responded. “In March, Bob Vacchi of Code Compliance said the city had 26 open cases and that no store was legally operating because they couldn’t within local zoning. But I knew there was a list out there of 94 dispensaries, so I just e-mailed my complaint and attached the list of all my stores.”

She insisted that she’d only filed one complaint, but the city considers one complaint against multiple establishments as multiple complaints. So, hers is counted as 94 complaints, a large portion of the total complaints received by the city on the medi-pot front.

“Her complaint listed 94 businesses on it, but we already had a bunch of those,” explained Robert Vacchi, the city’s code-compliance director. “So that wasn’t adding 94 cases. That was adding, I don’t know, 50-odd cases to our already existing 50-odd cases.

“So, you’re correct that [Beckett’s complaints] caused a big spike,” Vacchi conceded. Prior to April, he explained, complaints were coming in “more and more, but in ones and twos, and primarily from people in the communities, neighbors and whatnot.”

Vacchi said many of the complaints come from the beach areas and college areas, “but others are scattered around.” Last week, Spin Cycle asked to review the complaints, but Vacchi said it would take until later this week to compile the information.

“Primarily, our deal with it is, we look at it and say: Is it a permitted use or not? And, no, it’s not a permitted use, so, unfortunately at this point, it’s not permitted in any zone,” the director said.

He said not all complaints are zoning-related. “Somebody’s smoking in the parking lot, smoke wafting in the common area of the businesses or somebody selling drugs in the parking lot.”

On one level, both advocates and opponents seem to agree on one thing. As Beckett put it, medical-marijuana dispensaries are “in a no zone because our city chose not to do anything about it, chose just to look the other way.”

Beckett, also a member of the Pacific Beach Planning Group, said, “I believe in looking at things in a scientific way, to understand the risks, and I don’t think we have that now. There are a lot of risks associated with marijuana that people are not aware of.”

To back that up, Beckett shares an April mental-health newsletter from Harvard University that suggests that marijuana use “increases the risk of psychosis” and that “early or heavy marijuana use might not only trigger psychosis in people who are already vulnerable, but might also cause psychosis in some people who might not otherwise have developed it.”

Still, she said she believes marijuana should be studied and that she’s not compassionless when it comes to patients who believe in marijuana’s medicinal value. “I feel for patients,” she said. “But, personally, I think that if you’re going to take a drug, it needs to be FDA-approved.”

Eugene Davidovich, local spokesperson for Americans for Safe Access, a national medical-marijuana advocacy group, said he’s been researching the connection of some local medi-pot opponents with the Marijuana Initiative, an effort pushed by county government since 2003 with a goal of reducing “marijuana use by youth to improve community wellness” by, among other things, “eliminating messages that encourage, normalize or trivialize marijuana use.”

“That’s a big issue for us, in that their county-funded prevention plan says that you’re going to be keeping youth off of marijuana, but then they go to City Council meetings and lobby against regulations. We’ve asked that these types of initiatives not be funded because it’s outside of their county-funded program.”

Beckett said she receives nothing in return for her anti-storefront crusade. “That’s why I’m sitting here at my computer on a holiday working on stuff,” she laughed. “It’s all volunteer stuff, and I try to balance it with my personal life. I simply do it because I care.”

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