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San Diego Enforces Dispensary Restrictions Again

A brief period of respite for medical marijuana dispensaries in San Diego has come to an end.

For nine months, while Bob Filner was mayor, he refused to enforce the zoning restrictions that keep medical pot shops out of the city. Now that he has resigned in disgrace, officials have announced that they plan to crack down on the dispensaries that sprang up while he was in office.

Interim San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria said a draft medical marijuana ordinance would be ready for review this fall. It could come up for a city council vote early in 2014.

San Diego’s Marijuana History

Californians enacted medical marijuana in 1996, but San Diego didn’t pass an ordinance allowing dispensaries in the city until 2011. In the meantime, during the mayoralty of Jerry Sanders, pot shops were shut out completely.

The new ordinance was rejected by weed advocates, who considered it too restrictive.
They gathered enough signatures to force the city council to rescind it.

That left the city without access to medical marijuana until Filner, a longtime advocate, arrived on the scene. During his time in office, many of the dispensaries closed by Sanders’ administration were able to reopen.

They now face extinction again. That may be especially distressing to patients and providers, given that the city may be only months from finding a solution that will allow dispensaries in town.

Effect On Dispensaries

The new get-tough policy is in line with most other cities in California. Only a handful, including Los Angeles, have structured their zoning regulations to allow for dispensaries, and then only a limited number in designated neighborhoods.

The voter initiative that enacted medical marijuana in California was notoriously unhelpful in its treatment of how patients are supposed to get their medication. That led to a chaotic marketplace of legal, semi-legal and illegal dispensaries.

Municipalities decided to solve the problem by going to the opposite extreme, using zoning and other regulations to ban pot shops completely. This has been the chosen path of hundreds of cities and counties across the state.

Pot advocates fought back, and the issue went to the California Supreme Court, which ruled earlier this year that municipalities have the power to prohibit dispensaries.

Dispensary Regulations

Some cities, like L.A. and San Francisco, have tried to achieve balance by placing tight new regulations and limiting the number of dispensaries allowed. Most have banned them. And San Diego, uniquely, has whipsawed between acceptance and rejection.

That, apparently, has come to an end.

“The City of San Diego will not reward bad behavior,” said Gloria. “What I’ve identified as we’ve been working through our top-down review of city departments is that the previous administration didn’t always follow the rules.”

About Matt Brooks

Based in San Francisco, Matt is a journalist who has specialized in marijuana policy for more than five years. He provides regular news coverage on and

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