City takes step toward increased regulations for medical marijuana dispensaries


City News Service

The City Attorney’s Office was directed Wednesday to draft a proposed ordinance to strictly regulate where medical marijuana dispensaries are allowed to operate in San Diego.

The proposed zoning law would prohibit medical marijuana dispensaries from locating in residential areas or within 1,000 feet of schools, playgrounds, libraries, churches, parks and places where children frequent.

Medical marijuana storefronts would also be barred from locating within 1,000 feet of each other.

Operators of medical marijuana dispensaries would have to hire security, obtain appropriate land-use permits, operate as a nonprofit and could only open their doors during certain hours of the day.

Existing medical marijuana dispensaries would have to comply with the zoning regulations if the ordinance is approved by the full City Council.

The Land Use and Housing Committee voted 3-1 to have the City Attorney’s Office draft the measure and forward it to the full City Council for consideration sometime within the next two months.

Arguing that the proposed ordinance would not go far enough, Councilman Tony Young cast the dissenting vote.

He sought a moratorium on new medical marijuana dispensaries and a cap on how many are allowed to operate in the city.

“I think we should regulate this industry as much as we can,” Young told his colleagues.

The proposed regulations largely mirror those made by an 11-member task force established by the city to address concerns about the proliferation of unlicensed medical marijuana dispensaries.

However, committee members called for more stringent guidelines on how close medical marijuana dispensaries can be to each other and sought the addition of parks and places of worship to the buffer zones.

Alex Kreit, who chairs San Diego’s Medical Marijuana Task Force, urged the committee to act quickly on the guidelines, arguing that if the city opts to “kick the can down the road,” the “problem becomes more difficult to deal with.”

San Diego resident Scott Chipman called for an immediate moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries, telling the committee that the stores have “sprung up like weeds across the city.”

“There were five of them last February, and by October there were 90 of them in San Diego,” Chipman said. “They are close to schools, shopping malls and grocery stores, everywhere that children and families go.”

City staff confirmed there are more than 80 medical marijuana dispensaries now operating in San Diego.

Others called on the committee to adopt the task force’s recommendations, arguing that the guidelines would help legitimate medical marijuana patients and the community.

“We are asking you, do what needs to be done,” Rudy Reyes, a medical marijuana advocate who was burned during the 2003 wildfires, told the

committee. “All we are asking you to do is support these guidelines. They were well made.”

Craig Beresh, president of Southern California NORML, an organization working for the legalization of marijuana, told the committee that the dispensaries are there to help sick people.

“This isn’t a bunch of drug dealers,” he said. “These are a bunch of sick people.”

It became legal in California for seriously ill patients under the supervision of a doctor to obtain and use marijuana for medical purposes in 1996 with the passage of Proposition 215. Since then, cities around California have struggled with how to balance the needs of patients with the growing number of marijuana dispensaries.