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San Jose Aims to Limit Pot Shops

Leaders in San Jose are trying again to crack down on a still-thriving dispensary industry, though marijuana advocates have promised to put the issue before voters.

The new regulations would make it much harder for patients in many parts of town to get their medical weed, advocates say, and could cause new problems for the neighborhoods where dispensaries would be allowed.

But There Are A Few Complications…

Unlike many other communities in California, San Jose doesn’t have any ordinance or regulations in place to deal with pot shops. The city has not approved zoning for medical cannabis shops, so technically all of the 80 or so dispensaries in town could be closed.

But the city also has no ban on medical pot shops. Municipalities are allowed to prohibit dispensaries outright under a recent state Supreme Court ruling, despite the 1996 voter initiative that legalized medicinal weed in California.

Making matters more complicated, the city collects $5.4 million a year from the shops, thanks to a 10 percent tax approved by voters in 2010. City officials only target dispensaries for enforcement actions if they’ve generated complaints, if they’re located near schools, or if they haven’t paid their taxes.

So what would the new medical marijuana policy do?

Now the city council is considering a new policy that would limit medical pot shops to less than 1 percent of all the parcels in San Jose. Dispensaries would be barred from operating within 1,000 feet of schools, parks, churches, libraries, community centers and day-care centers; within 500 feet of addiction rehab centers; and within 150 feet of residences.

That would leave just 1,400 parcels, mostly in an industrial area in north San Jose. Marijuana advocates say that simply isn’t viable.

“That’s absurd,” said MMJ attorney James Anthony when showed a map of the proposed zoning rules. “That’s not going to work.”marijuana-glass-jar

City officials say they’d begin enforcing the ordinance as soon as it takes effect, as early as next summer. All pot shops in the restricted areas would be asked to close voluntarily. If they refused, the city would shut them down.

“We can’t just have a laissez-faire regulation system,” said Mayor Chuck Reed, who supports the changes.

The New Policy Might Be A Bad Idea

But Kris Hermes, spokesman for the Oakland medical marijuana advocacy group Americans for Safe Access, said the restrictions would simply lead to large numbers of dispensaries clustered in the districts where they’re allowed. That’s not good for those neighborhoods, he said.

“They don’t want this sort of dumping ground, if you will, where all the dispensaries are,” Hermes said. “And it really doesn’t serve the interest of the patients.”

San Jose tried to limit dispensaries before, in 2011. The council wanted to allow only 10 pot shops, but marijuana advocates collected enough signatures to put the issue before voters. Instead, the council withdrew the plan and waited until the Supreme Court ruling had played out before acting on new 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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