City Task Force Calls Ordinance a De-Facto Ban, Urges Council to Amend

Alex Kreit, Associate Professor  Director, Center for Law and Social Justice  Thomas Jefferson School of Law

Alex Kreit, Associate Professor
Director, Center for Law and Social Justice
Thomas Jefferson School of Law

Letter from the chair of the San Diego City’s own medical marijuana task force sent to the entire San Diego City Council urging them to amend this ordinance and voicing strong concern that it amounts to a ban if passed as currently written:

Dear Councilmembers,

We had the privilege of serving on the City of San Diego’s Medical Marijuana Task Force. As you know, the Task Force was comprised of eleven members of the community representing a wide range of views and backgrounds. Our group included a former police officer, a reverend, and a doctor, among others. During our many meetings, held over six months, we heard comments from a great many members of the public as well as San Diego Police Department Assistant Chief Cesar Solis and Captain Guy Swanger. We reviewed dozens of ordinances from other California cities and counties and members of our Task Force met with planning groups across the City.

Though the Task Force did not agree on every recommendation, we unanimously voted to approve a draft report of our land use and zoning recommendations as a package of recommendations for the City Council’s consideration. In addition, our group agreed on the central principle that by closely regulating medical marijuana collectives and cooperatives, the City of San Diego can ensure that qualified patients have safe access to their lawfully recommended medicine and prevent against the dangers attendant to unregulated or otherwise illegitimate operators.

We deeply appreciate the opportunity to have advised the Council on this issue and all of your diligent efforts to bring a draft ordinance before you that would regulate medical marijuana collectives and cooperatives in the City. We also appreciate that the Council has incorporated many of our recommendations into the draft ordinance that will be before you at your March 28th, 2011 meeting.

We are concerned, however, that the ordinance as currently drafted may amount to a de-facto ban of medical marijuana collectives and cooperatives within the City of San Diego that could force thousands of our neighbors to turn to the black market to obtain medicine recommended by their physician. This is because the zoning and other location restrictions, such as prohibiting collectives and cooperatives from opening within 1,000 feet of a variety of sensitive uses, operating together leave only a small handful of locations within the city where a medical marijuana dispensary could open.

We do not believe that the members of the Land Use and Housing Committee members who voted on these additional location restrictions necessarily intended or foresaw this result. At the time of the LU&H committee’s vote, maps to assess the practical impact of different zoning options were unavailable both to the committee members and the public. LU&H voted to adopt many of the Task Force’s recommendations while adding a number of additional zoning and location restrictions.

While there may be a rationale for each of the additional restrictions adopted by LU&H in isolation, now that maps showing their effect have been released there is no doubt that, in combination, the location and zoning limits in the current ordinance will ban medical marijuana collectives and cooperatives in most—if not all—of San Diego. The current zoning and location limits are more restrictive than those placed on liquor stores, adult bookstores, and even strip clubs. They will prevent medical marijuana collectives from opening in the central neighborhoods of San Diego, neighborhoods with the greatest number of patients, and even in neighborhoods where residents and local planning groups strongly support permitting them.

Those who will be hurt most by the draft ordinance will be the sickest patients, including the elderly and the disabled, who cannot travel long distances for their medicine and are unable to undertake the time and labor intensive process of attempting to grow medical marijuana for themselves. Indeed, the California legislature adopted the Medical Marijuana Program Act in 2003, which makes medical marijuana collectives and cooperatives legal, in order to protect the rights of patients like these.

As you know, the Code Monitoring Team, the Community Planners Committee, and the Planning Commission have all weighed in on the draft ordinance. Each one of these groups has expressed concerns similar to the ones outlined above. The CMT recommended, among other things, that dispensaries be allowed to apply for a permit in all commercial zones, including those with residential uses. The CPC recommended that a variance process be incorporated into the draft ordinance to allow for dispensaries to be established in local communities that would like them. Though the Planning Commission recommended approval of the ordinance by a 3-2 vote, they also expressed concern that the allowable zones did not provide enough possible locations and requested that further analysis be done regarding the number of parcels and their locations that would be available under the ordinance before the issue is presented to Council.

In our view, despite its shortcomings, the draft ordinance provides a good foundation for regulating medical marijuana collectives and cooperatives in many respects. However, the sensitive use and zoning restrictions in combination would amount to a de facto ban on dispensaries by zoning them out of existence, forcing thousands of sick San Diegans including the elderly and veterans to procure medication lawfully prescribed to them by their physician from the black-market. We urge you to amend the draft ordinance—either by including additional allowable zones, reducing the distance and number of sensitive uses, establishing a variance process, or some combination of these options—in order to ensure that sick and dying San Diegans whose doctors recommend medical marijuana to them have safe access to that medicine, just as they would for any other medicine.


Alex Kreit
Medical Marijuana Task Force Chair

Dave Potter

Rev. A. Wayne Riggs

Stephen Whitburn
Medical Marijuana Task Force Vice-Chair

Alex Kreit
Associate Professor
Director, Center for Law and Social Justice
Thomas Jefferson School of Law
1155 Island Avenue
San Diego, California 92101

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