Proposed revised medical marijuana ordinance would allow dispensaries to operate in four Carmel Valley locations

By Joe Tash

San Diego Mayor Bob Filner has proposed a revised medical marijuana ordinance that would allow dispensaries to operate in four locations zoned for commercial use in Carmel Valley, as well as commercial and light industrial zones throughout the city of San Diego.

The San Diego City Council will get its first look at the proposed ordinance on Monday, April 22. The Carmel Valley Community Planning Board will also discuss the ordinance at its meeting on April 25.

The major differences between the new ordinance proposed by Filner, and a previous version approved and later repealed by the City Council, is an expansion of zones where dispensaries can be located, and increased regulation of dispensaries to ensure public safety, said Lee Burdick, director of special projects and legal affairs in the mayor’s office.

“(The objective is) to allow enough permitting areas where anyone in San Diego who is in need of this type of medicinal substance can have reasonable access to it, while at the same time protecting our neighborhoods and our kids,” said Burdick.

In March 2011, the City Council passed an ordinance allowing medical marijuana dispensaries in certain industrial areas. According to Burdick, restrictions on locating the dispensaries near schools, churches or other facilities where children are present meant that in reality, dispensaries could operate in only two areas of the city — Barrio Logan and Otay Mesa.

People who felt the law was too restrictive gathered enough signatures to place the issue on the ballot, and the council opted in the fall of 2011 to repeal the ordinance.

The new ordinance proposed by Filner allows dispensaries in community commercial and light industrial zones.

In Carmel Valley, dispensaries could potentially be located in four areas: commercial centers along Via De La Valle, mostly east of Interstate 5; a commercial center west of I-5 and north of Del Mar Heights Road; commercial zones within Pacific Highlands Ranch; and at the northeast corner of the intersection of State Route 56 and I-5.

Frisco White, chairman of the Carmel Valley Community Planning Board, said he will add the proposed ordinance as a discussion item on the board’s April 25 agenda, and members of the planning board and community can also attend the council hearing on April 22, or send letters to the city with their comments.

“The biggest concern I have and I’m sure it would concern the planning board and the community, is it’s so close to schools,” White said.

Specifically, he said the commercial center at I-5 and Del Mar Heights is near the Del Mar Hills Elementary School, and Pacific Highlands Ranch commercial area is close to Canyon Crest Academy and Cathedral Catholic High School, as well as the site of future middle school.

Some in the community support access to medical marijuana for those who need it.

Longtime Carmel Valley resident Anne Harvey said she’s not a cancer patient on chemotherapy, but, “If I were, I would want (medical marijuana) to be available.”

The council is not expected to take action on the item Monday, said Burdick. Rather, it could decide to refer the issue back to the community planning groups for discussion and input, send it to a City Council committee, or direct the city attorney to draft an ordinance.

Before the ordinance could take effect, she said, it would require two readings at the council.

Repeated calls and messages to First District Councilwoman Sherri Lightner seeking comment on the proposed ordinance were not returned as of presstime.

Under the proposed ordinance, medical marijuana dispensaries would have to be at least 600 feet from schools, public parks, playgrounds or other dispensaries, Burdick said.

Dispensaries would be allowed in all nine of San Diego’s City Council districts under the proposed ordinance, but zoning regulations would limit the total number to about 30 or 40 locations citywide, Burdick said.

Currently, Burdick said, only one dispensary in downtown San Diego is operating legally, because it was grandfathered in under previous regulations. Some others are apparently operating illegally, she said.

Filner proposes a $5,000 annual business license fee for dispensaries, as well as a 2 percent excise tax on dispensaries’ wholesale transactions, their purchases of marijuana from member growers, Burdick said.

Filner is committed to working with both the police and neighborhood code enforcement departments to ensure that all regulations are enforced, and that dispensaries operate responsibly, Burdick said.

The mayor seeks to balance accessibility to medical marijuana with protection of public safety, said Burdick. “There are tens of thousands of San Diegans who suffer from a variety of illnesses and disorders who need medical marijuana to alleviate their suffering.”