Medical marijuana is getting closer to the light of day in San Diego.
MMJ providers and patients won’t have an easy time under the city’s new dispensary law, but it’s a big step up from the months during which they were banned and the years during which the city has struggled over how to deal with them.
In February, the San Diego City Council voted 8-1 to create new zoning rules for medical pot shops. The vote ended a long blackout on the stores in the city, one preceded by a long tussle between dispensaries and city officials.
On April 16, the council’s Public Safety and Livable Neighborhoods Committee met to hash out some of the finer details of the new ordinance. They discussed how it would affect the city code when it comes to product origins, deliveries, safety of edible products, and processing of THC concentrates.
The ordinance doesn’t take effect until April 24. Even then, each business will have to obtain a conditional use permit from the city, good for five years, and a public safety permit from the police department, good for one year.
No store may open until it is fully licensed by the city, though it’s not clear how long that process will take for the first applicants.
The new law allows for 30 dispensaries in San Diego – no more than four in each of the nine City Council districts. They’ll be restricted to commercial and industrial zones and must be located at least 1,000 feet from each other and from schools, libraries, churches, parks, child care facilities, and playgrounds.
The stores must be non-profit, they must operate under restricted hours, and they must employ security guards.
Once the first dispensary opens, it should mark the end to a long ordeal for MMJ patients in San Diego. City officials have long targeted the businesses for extinction, and only public support has saved them.
Former Mayor Jerry Sanders, who served two terms between 2005 and 2012, aggressively cracked down on illegal dispensaries. Since the city had no zoning allowance for the shops, they were all considered illegal.
In 2011, the City Council tried to reach a compromise by passing an ordinance regulating dispensaries. But MMJ proponents considered it stifling and launched a successful effort to repeal it. The end result: All shops were illegal again.
But when Sanders left office, his replacement, Bob Filner, took the side of the dispensaries. A staunch MMJ supporter, Filner instructed city officials not to enforce the zoning code against pot shops. He introduced a new marijuana ordinance, but council members rejected it and asked the city attorney to write up a new one.
Then, just nine months into his term, Filner was forced out of office in a sexual harassment scandal. The city immediately went back to shutting down dispensaries.
Finally, in February, the council passed the new ordinance. It remains to be seen whether the cannabis community will fully embrace it, but so far they haven’t revolted.