San Diego officials have approved the city’s first license to run a medical marijuana dispensary.
The license went to David Blair, owner of A Green Alternative pot shop. Blair plans to open the store in Otay Mesa. The license was cleared by a hearing officer at the San Diego Development Services Department Oct. 15.
“We’re at the end of the beginning and the beginning of the next step,” Blair said.
A Green Alternative is now the first legal medical weed store in San Diego. The city effectively banned dispensaries several years ago, and though illegal shops were tolerated for a while, officials have since cracked down.
The City Council voted in March to adopt a set of tight new regulations on dispensaries. The city now allows the shops, but only if they’re approved by officials after a rigorous permit process.
“Today is a great day for the city of San Diego and its residents who need medical marijuana,” said Dan Riffle, an attorney for Blair’s dispensary. “Doctor-recommended care will be provided by responsible members, not by dealers and pop-up dispensaries.”
The law approved by the council allows up to four collectives in each of eight city districts. No shops are allowed in the ninth district. For a population of 1.4 million, that’s not many dispensaries – just 32. By contrast, the city has more than 2,500 liquor establishments.
Shops are barred in Council President Todd Gloria’s district because every available inch of the district is too close to places where children gather. Overly onerous buffer zones are required between pot shops and schools, parks, churches, and day-care centers.
Illegal shops have thrived in San Diego at times, especially under the administration of former Mayor Bob Filner, who supported MMJ and ordered city authorities not to harass shop owners. But Filner was driven from office by a sexual harassment scandal, and the city promptly returned to its former policy of driving dispensaries out of town.
Blair said the new policy is a welcome change of pace, even if it wasn’t ideal for the medical marijuana industry. Back when he got his first cannabis recommendation, shortly after MMJ was adopted in 1996, there were no shops to be found.
“There was one dispensary in Los Angeles, and I would have to buy enough product to make sure I wasn’t driving there more than once a month,” Blair said.
Getting a license is no easy task. The process could cost applicants upwards of $100,000. Any shop without a permit is considered illegal and subject to prosecution.