Del Mar Councilman says city’s marijuana regs are ‘passe’

One councilmember, at least, thinks Del Mar should loosen its prohibitions against marijuana enterprise, going so far as to say San Diego’s smallest city ought to allow one recreational and one medical dispensary in town.

Deputy Mayor Dave Druker took his contrarian stand last week as the city council clarified the legal standing of its pot policy now that California’s landmark recreational marijuana law has taken effect.

Born as an urgency ordinance in January 2016 (as state medical marijuana regulations neared implementation) and finalized eight months later (two weeks after California voters passed the Adult Use of Marijuana Act by a landslide), the cannabis-related section of Del Mar city code prohibits the sale, cultivation and manufacturing of both recreational and medical cannabis. It allows in-home consumption, possession of up to one ounce of cannabis flower or 8 grams of concentrate, and purchase through one of the small handful of San Diego’s licensed delivery services. No more than six plants can be grown in a home, and only inside a secured area that cannot be seen from outside. Grows cannot occur in a garage, nor within 30 feet of any habitable structure on neighboring properties.

Druker wasn’t on the council when Del Mar set its policies; he won his seat in the November 2016 election in which 65 percent of Del Mar voters supported the referendum to legalize recreational marijuana, known at the time as Prop 64.

“I believe that the people have spoken and we need to follow their lead,” Druker told his council colleagues. “… The concept of regulating marijuana is passe at this point. It’s time for us to get with the 21st century.”

Local autonomy is key to the state’s new marijuana regime. The City of San Diego, El Cajon, Lemon Grove and La Mesa are the only cities in San Diego County that allow dispensaries. And whereas Oceanside and Vista are considering dispensaries and Encinitas voters will decide in November whether to allow commercial cultivation, Del Mar has shown no appetite for loosening its restrictions.

Druker stopped short of calling on his colleagues to rewrite city code right away, referencing the city’s busy workload in the months ahead. Instead, cannabis reform will be among his priorities this spring as the council sets its goals for the fiscal year that begins in July — a feat he acknowledges will face long odds in converting the rest of the council.

“It’s highly doubtful,” he said in an interview.

At the Jan. 16 meeting, two members of the San Dieguito Alliance for Drug Free Youth implored the city council to hold its ground in the face of marijuana’s growing presence, political influence and a litany of adverse impacts they said have plagued communities with dispensaries and facilities for cultivation and manufacturing. Characterizing medical marijuana patients as disingenuous and marijuana’s normalization as the deliberate result of a “very strategic campaign and marketing by the multi-billion dollar marijuana industry,” Alliance member Barbara Gordon said the city’s prohibitions are a “good health policy.”

“I think you have to ask yourself, ‘As a city, do we have resources to actually handle this issue?’” she said. “The city council must put public health and safety before the smoke and mirrors of big marijuana industry.”

Druker dismissed the Alliance’s dire admonitions. Ambivalent by his own description—he testified in favor of a medical dispensary proposed in Del Mar nearly a decade ago, but does not consider himself to be staunchly pro-pot—it wasn’t until several conversations he had at the Del Mar Farmers Market the weekend before the council’s discussion that he realized the mounting reality of marijuana is growing on him.

“The concept that marijuana is this terrible drug—if it was so terrible, half the baby boomers would be dead right now or addicts,” Druker said. “Come on, we’re dealing with adults here, not with children.”

Prior to last week’s discussion, the only point of cannabis contention in Del Mar has been over the state-owned fairgrounds, which found itself embroiled in controversy last year after booking what would have been San Diego’s first large-scale cannabis festival (albeit one dwarfed by the multi-day, 100,000-attendee festivals held at some of California’s other fairgrounds).

At the time, the 22nd District Agricultural Association—which runs the Del Mar Fairgrounds—lacked an explicit policy on cannabis, and its general manager approved the contract for the Goodlife Festival without notifying the DAA’s board of directors, as is the norm for events expected to draw only a few thousand attendees.

In the ensuing uproar—which included entreaties from the city councils of Del Mar and Solana Beach—the DAA board canceled the contract in May after Goodlife’s organizer balked at instructing attendees not to bring or consume cannabis. The DAA also held off on a general policy on marijuana, awaiting state guidance that came out in October—essentially advising each of the state’s 52 fairgrounds to heed the preferences of their local jurisdictions.

Del Mar Mayor Dwight Worden acknowledged last week that nearly two-thirds of Del Mar’s voters supported recreational marijuana, but speculated that voters had private use in mind, not the consequences that would follow cannabis operations or a cannabis festival in Del Mar.

“If you ask them, ‘Do you want a dispensary in your neighborhood? Do you want a commercial enterprise in your community?’ I think the answer might be different,” he said. “… I don’t equate commercial promotion with being necessarily in favor of personal recreational use.”

The DAA plans to develop its marijuana policy in the next two to three months. In that light, the Del Mar council’s cannabis discussion settled on sending the DAA a letter urging the fairgrounds to allow education-only cannabis events, not consumption or sale on site. Recent discussions with the DAA, Worden said, suggest the fairgrounds is leaning in that direction.

After hesitating for several seconds over whether to oppose the letter, Druker asked to merely vote “present.”