San Diegans could shop at legal medical marijuana dispensaries again soon, if the city council passes an ordinance designed to regulate the stores.
The ordinance, drafted by city staff at the request of the council, has been presented to community groups and will go before council members in February, said Interim Mayor Todd Gloria.
“Essentially, what I think it is is a reasonable balance between the communities and the need for safe access,” Gloria said Dec. 19. “This will result in a handful of collectives in the community that are operating under very strict guidelines that they don’t currently necessarily have to follow.”
Gloria and the council asked for the ordinance in the fall, after then-Mayor Bob Filner resigned amid a sexual harassment scandal. The proposal would allow a small number of dispensaries to operate for five years under conditional use permits.
Owners would be required to locate their dispensaries at least 100 feet from residences at at least 1,000 feet from parks, child care centers, playgrounds, churches, schools, residential care sites, libraries, and other cannabis shops. They would have to install outdoor lighting and other security measures, and there would be limits on signs.
Stores would be allowed to operate seven days a week, from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., and weed vending machines would be banned.
Medical marijuana has been legal in California since 1996, but it has long been difficult for patients in San Diego to get it. Former Mayor Jerry Sanders cracked down on dispensaries, closing dozens before he left office in 2012.
While he was mayor, the city council passed an ordinance allowing dispensaries, but MMJ advocates who considered it too restrictive got it killed. The result was a continued de facto ban on pot shops.
Filner, Sanders’s replacement, briefly changed city policy and allowed pot shops to flourish. He barred the city attorney from enforcing regulations that made it illegal to run a medical marijuana dispensary in San Diego.
But he was forced to resign after just nine months in office, and city officials quickly reversed course. In September, Gloria ordered staff to resume enforcing the regulations that prohibit dispensaries. The city has served about 20 enforcement actions since then, he said.
Gloria said the draft ordinance is intended to help marijuana providers as much as residents.
“These folks don’t have a certainty—they don’t know where they can operate legally,” he said. “What we’re trying to do is give them clear rules of the road, that if they operate within them, we as a city will allow that to happen, and if they don’t, we’ll act aggressively to shut them down.”