Medical pot dispensaries re-emerge even as city retools rules, oversight
Jun 26, 2013 | 3511 views | 0 0 comments | 26 26 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Although still illegal in the city, some medical marijuana dispensaries are opening storefronts around San Diego. The city is redrafting an ordinance addressing rules and oversight.                              Photo by Kendra Hartmann I The Beacon
Although still illegal in the city, some medical marijuana dispensaries are opening storefronts around San Diego. The city is redrafting an ordinance addressing rules and oversight. Photo by Kendra Hartmann I The Beacon
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Medical marijuana dispensaries, including a handful along the beachfront, are beginning to pop up again, apparently taking advantage of continuing legal uncertainties over the hot-button political issue.

At least three dispensaries clandestinely opened recently in Pacific Beach, and Ocean Beach could be next.

“There might be one,” said Denny Knox, executive director of the Ocean Beach MainStreet Association, a business improvement district. “I don’t know for sure. It’s sort of clandestine.

“They don’t get involved in the community,” said Knox, who added there were as many as seven medical marijuana dispensaries a few years ago that sprang up seemingly overnight in Ocean Beach before federal law enforcement officials crack-ed down and forced them to close.

Knox said there were problems with Ocean Beach dispensaries in the past.

“We had a handful of them that were dealing [marijuana] out the back door,” said Knox. “That was really ridiculous. We could literally see [the transactions].”

Knox said she is confused by the cloudy rules and oversight of medical marijuana dispensaries.

“I wish it was more clear-cut,” she said. “If [medical marijuana prescriptions] work for people who are ill, great. But there can’t be that many ill people in OB that you would need seven of those dispensaries,” she said. “If it’s something that requires a doctor to prescribe, you ought to be able to go to a pharmacy and get it.”

Dave Martin, owner of Shades Restaurant at 5083 Santa Monica Ave., was a member of the city’s initial task force on marijuana dispensaries that made recommendations on how the dispensaries should be regulated.

Although he said he didn’t know if any dispensaries have become active again in Ocean Beach, Martin added, “I supported the suggestions of the task force and feel that people who have a need for medical marijuana should have a way to access it. [But] it is an illegal drug at this point in time and should be controlled and kept out of the hands of children and people that would abuse it.”

At least three dispensaries have reportedly already surfaced in Pacific Beach.

Members of other local beachfront planning groups, like those in Pacific Beach and Bird Rock, which have watched medical marijuana dispensaries emerge in those areas before, have mixed feelings about their return.

Brian Curry, chairman of the Pacific Beach Planning Group, said the community remains divided over the issue.

“I’ve entertained many inquiries from PB residents who are very concerned about the proliferation of dispensaries, who felt that they were not necessarily for sick people that need marijuana to treat their illnesses but for recreational use, which is a problem and an issue,” Curry said. “But there are also some in Pacific Beach who were supportive of them before, think they’re great and are amicable about the possibility of them returning.”

Curry said Pacific Beach planners have not taken a position for or against dispensaries, adding that the planning group has adopted a wait-and-see attitude toward dispensaries.

“There’s probably a reasonable — and rational — way to handle this,” he said. “Hopefully, the mayor and the City Council will figure it out.”

Filner, a medical marijuana proponent, said recently that dispensaries, at present, are not legally permissible in any land-use zones anywhere in the city, and that any that have opened have done so illegally.

“In January, the mayor committed to preserving the status quo regarding it being illegal to site medical marijuana dispensaries in the city of San Diego until the time the City Council adopts a new ordinance,” said Lee Burdick, director of special projects and legal affairs in Filner’s office. “At the same time, [the City Council] asked the mayor to provide them with information, including mapping where medical marijuana dispensaries might be located. They asked for additional cost data regarding licensing, permitting and law enforcement. We are in the process of developing that information, and we hope to return back to the council with that information in the next weeks, at which point the council will decide how to follow up with the community planning groups.”

The questionable legality of dispensaries could be cleared up with a new draft land-use Medical Marijuana Consumer Cooperative Ordinance released recently by the city for public review.

In October 2009, the City Council voted to establish a Medical Marijuana Task Force. In March 2011, the council voted 5-1 to approve an ordinance allowing medical marijuana dispensaries in designated zones. However, in September 2011 the council voted 7-1 to rescind the ordinance.

But the city is back for a second bite out of the apple. The council on

April 22 directed the city attorney to draft a new medical marijuana ordinance using the previously adopted 2011 ordinance as a template.

Medical marijuana dispensaries would not be allowed within 1,000 feet of public parks, churches, schools, child-care centers, playgrounds, city libraries, minor-oriented facilities or other dispensaries.

The newly revised ordinance would add a 100-foot buffer between dispensaries and residential zones and also prohibit them within 1,000 feet of sensitive uses like drug and alcohol rehabilitation centers.

Under the new ordinance, Filner would identify those city departments responsible for issuing permits and developing fee structures for dispensaries. He would also be required to provide a list of community planning groups to be contacted for input on the new land-use dispensary ordinance, as well as providing an analysis of potential zoning impacts, including square footage of use allowed, within each council district.

“Marijuana dispensaries and collectives are illegal in the city of San Diego for two reasons,” said Goldsmith in a written statement. “First, they are a criminal enterprise under federal laws. Second, there is no zoning in the city of San Diego which allows them to exist anywhere. The lack of zoning can be changed by ordinance. Our office drafted an ordinance at the request of the City Council and delivered it to the Mayor and City Council on May 13. The actual adoption of any ordinance regarding marijuana dispensaries is a policy question for the Mayor and City Council to pursue as they see fit.”

Several medical marijuana dispensaries and landlords leasing the buildings to them did not reply to repeated attempts to contact them for this article.
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