There’s a stalemate in the battle over medical-marijuana dispensaries in Pacific Beach, as seemingly one unauthorized cooperative opens or reopens for every one that closes.
Generating continued frustration for local residents and legislators alike, the issue has the attention of District 2 City Councilman Ed Harris, who said recently that of the 63 illegal medical dispensaries operating citywide, 17 are in the beach areas — with a preponderance of those shops in Pacific Beach.
Harris said shutting down unpermitted medical-marijuana dispensaries is not a simple matter, however.
“Closing down illegally operating medical-marijuana dispensaries is time consuming and often involves months of litigation,” Harris said. “There is a great deal of money to be made in this business, and often dispensary owners do whatever they can to remain open. That said, I am confident the City Attorney’s Office will get all of these shut down.”
Meanwhile, Harris said, “I have asked city staff to report on their efforts to close down these dispensaries during the Public Safety and Livable Neighborhoods Council Committee meeting on Sept. 18 in order to make the process more open and transparent to the public.”
He said Neighborhood Code Enforcement officials and the City Attorney’s Office are actively working on shuttering these illegal storefronts. Harris said that within the last month, the city has closed the dispensary adjacent to St. Brigid Church on Cass Street.
However, no sooner does one dispensary shut its doors before another emerges to take its place, said Scott Chipman of Pacific Beach Planning Group.
“We have a new pot shop at 841 Turquoise St. called Dank on Turquoise,” said Chipman. “Another pot shop opened around June 30 at 1737 Garnet Ave. in the alley called Left Coast Collective.”
Both Dank on Turquoise and Left Coast Collective were contacted for comment and their side of the story, but declined comment or did not respond.
However, Eugene Davidovich, who represents the industry as a spokesman for the Alliance for Responsible Medicinal Access (ARMA), offered his own take.
"The notion that medical marijuana patients are drug addicts is ignorant, insulting and flies in the face of much evidence to the contrary," Davidovich said. "That cannabis has a number of medicinal benefits for a number of serious conditions — with relief of symptoms like tremors, seizures and nausea — is simply no longer in dispute. What we need now is to ensure San Diego patients are able to go to well-regulated cooperatives for their medicine.
"ARMA understands the need for patients to have uninterrupted access to their medicine and because there are currently no licensed cooperatives in the city, patients have no choice but to go to an unlicensed shop," he said. "This issue underscores exactly why ARMA advocates for good, sensible regulations. Once there are licensed cooperatives in the city, there will be no more need for patients to go to the unlicensed facilities. Cooperatives that are compliant with the new, strict laws will be great neighbors, both because of the rules and the level of difficulty and investment needed to secure a permit. These will not be fly-by-night operations, rather they will more resemble pharmacies and will not be unwelcome in their communities."
Davidovich said he realizes the importance of medical-marijuana dispensaries operating at a higher standard.
"ARMA urges the public to embrace the process and regulations that will result in well-operated, licensed dispensaries as the best hope for seeing the less scrupulous operators close up shop, either by city code enforcement action or by virtue of the fact that permitted cooperatives have a market advantage," he said. "Research has shown that regulations help to protect safe, responsible access for patients to their medicine and reduce crime and complaints in neighborhoods."
Meanwhile, Chipman claimed medical marijuana dispensaries are a sham.
“I don’t understand why drug dealing is illegal on the street corner but when it’s behind a glass door it’s being permitted,” he said. “If I set up a hot-dog stand in front of one of these pot shops, how long would I be allowed to do that? A couple hours? Days? Months? Some of these medical-marijuana guys are opening for months — and years — sometimes just changing the letters in their name and reopening.”
Pointing out marijuana “is not allowed to be sold legally in California,” Chipman said he felt what dispensaries are doing qualifies as “drug dealing.”
Chipman said a neighborhood coalition he belongs to, San Diegans for Safe Neighborhoods, has tracked Pacific Beach pot shops for more than five years.
“We have spent hundreds of hours watching who goes in and out of these stores,” he said. “Ninety-plus percent are males under the age of 35 and the other 10 percent are females under 35. These stores are nothing but drug dealers behind glass doors. We have filed code-compliance complaints on all of them, and it appears to take many months — or even several years — for the city to be effective at closing them.”
He maintained that dispensary regulations need to be stiffened.
“They must strengthen the operational regulations, raise the age limit to buy to 25 and prohibit hash-oil products,” he said. “It is disappointing that landlords join the unscrupulous and rent to illegal businesses to enrich themselves regardless of the impact on our youth and communities.”
Chipman contends the “medical” component of dispensaries is a formality.
“A guy with dreadlocks in a white lab coat does not a caregiver make,” he said. “I am shocked at the City Council for falling for this complete ruse. Show me one place where a primary caregiver is distributing out of a dispensary.”
On a separate front, there are presently 38 applications for legally permitted medical-marijuana dispensaries citywide that are being reviewed under a new ordinance adopted by the City Council earlier this year. That ordinance allows conditional approval for a maximum of four dispensaries in any of the nine City Council districts, said Edith Gutierrez of the city’s Development Services Department.
Of those “legal dispensary” applications, 18 — or nearly half — are in City Council District 2. There are no applications in council districts 1, 4, 5 and 9 because of zoning restrictions under the new ordinance. At present, City Council District 3 has two applicants, District 6 has nine, District 7 has four and District 8 has five.
“Applications are processed on a first-come, first-served basis,” said Gutierrez.
The new city ordinance allows medical marijuana dispensaries in industrially zoned areas. They are not allowed within 1,000 feet of churches, public parks, schools, child-care centers, city libraries, minor-oriented facilities, residential-care facilities or other medical marijuana-consumer cooperatives.
An initial deposit of $8,000 is required by the city of all marijuana medical dispensary applicants.