Mayor Filner Re-Opens Door For Medical Marijuana Collectives In San Diego
January 10, 2013 1:19 p.m.
San Diego City Attorney, Jan Goldsmith
Alex Kreit, former chair of the city's Medical Marijuana Task Force and professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law
Eugene Davidovich, Chapter Coordinator for San Diego Americans for Safe Access
CAVANAUGH: This is KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. This week, mayor Bob Filner reopened the door to the possibility of legal medical marijuana collectives in San Diego. Speak to the group, Americans for safe access, the mayor said he would work to stop the City of San Diego from closing the collectives, and Filner indicated he would review the results of the city's medical marijuana task force, presented to the City Council more than two years ago. He referred to the federal county and San Diego City crackdowns of the collectives as both prosecutions and persecutions. Joining me to talk about the mayor's remarks are my guests, San Diego City attorney Jan Goldsmith, and thank you for coming in. It's good to see you.
GOLDSMITH: Always a pleasure. Thank you.
CAVANAUGH: Alex Kreit is here, former chief of the city's medical marijuana task force.
CAVANAUGH: And Eugene Davidovich is with the Americans for safe access.
DAVIDOVICH: Pleasure to be here.
CAVANAUGH: Here's mayor Bob Filner.
NEW SPEAKER: The city attorney has not been very helpful.
[ LAUGHTER ]
NEW SPEAKER: He has not accepted the fact that he is the attorney and the city is the client. And we're going to have to find within the context of the law, which you're going to help me write that we also direct him not to engage in the kind of prosecution and -- persecution that he has engaged in.
CAVANAUGH: Now, Jan Goldsmith, your office has worked diligently to help close most of San Diego's medical marijuana collectives. You released a letter in response to the mayor's characterization of those efforts as persecution. What points did you make in that letter?
GOLDSMITH: My first point was that he's the mayor. And the prosecutions originated at the request of the San Diego police department and neighborhood code compliance unit, which are both under his direction. And that he has the power to simply instruct them not to send us cases. And if we don't have cases, we don't pursue enforcement. We are not -- we don't spend investigators out to conjure up our own cases. We don't drive around and figure out who's violating the zoning ordinance and who doesn't. We launched this enforcement action back in 2011 at the specific request of San Diego police department, the chief, Lansdowne, who came to our office and asked for it. And code compliance unit working with SDBTs sent over about 100 cases with evidence and with backup, and it is our ethical responsibility to pursue them. So I basically sent back to Bob, you could have done this in 30 seconds. And the broader issue is he is the mayor. He came from Congress, he needs a preadjustment to learn his power. And there's things that he gets to decide. One thing he gets to decide is whether he sends us over these code enforcement cases. They are civil cases. And if they don't send the case, we don't pursue them. This is not our crusade, it's our doing our job as lawyers.
CAVANAUGH: After having received the letter, are the mayor has issued a letter that does direct the department of code compliance to stop enforcement against marijuana dispensaries. It doesn't have anything to do with health or safety issues. But basically he's stopping the crackdown on medical marijuana dispensaries as you suggested in your letter. Did he give your office any response?
GOLDSMITH: Well, that was the response that I suggested he could consider if that's his goal. He could simply instruct neighborhood code compliance not to send those cases, which he did, and to stop targeted coat enforcement against the dispensaries, which he did, and as lawyers for the city, and without the code compliance unit, sending us matters or providing us information or evidence or direction, yes, it's over. And it doesn't affect other agencies, such as the federal government and all that. But from the standpoint we're out of that business, and that is well within the mayor's authority as he has the authority over neighborhood code compliance.
CAVANAUGH: We invited mayor Filner to join us today. He was not available to do so. Alex, can you give us some background on this? Remind us why there is no way at present for medical marijuana dispensaries to really conform to San Diego City law. It has to do with zoning; isn't that right?
KREIT: Yeah. A couple of years back, the San Diego City Council established a medical marijuana task force which I chaired to advise the city on enacting regulations for land use zoning and operational requirements for medical marijuana dispensaries which the city doesn't have at that time and doesn't have today still. And we came up, we're a pretty diverse group and we came up with a set of recommendations to City Council. Those recommendations went through City Council, and City Council adopted a lot of them. But they significantly reduced the number of zones that we recommended to the point where there would have been very, very few locations where they could operate. Some medical marijuana advocates were upset about the ordinance that was passed, they gathered signatures, and force today back into the City Council's hands. And the City Council decided to repeal it. And that ended up in the standstill that we've been in, which is no regulatory zoning ordinance. And what I think is most important about what's going on here is makes me hopeful is that maybe we can now move back to this. Because I think it's so critical that we do have these regulations in place. And I think that when we were on the path toward regulations, I think we were working together a lot more, people on different sides of this issue. Jan Goldsmith's office had folks who were helping the medical marijuana task force advising about the legal issues, drafted the ordinance that went before City Council based on these recommendations, and so I'm very hopeful that now with mayor Filner speaking out and saying he wants to get this back on track that maybe we can see some positive developments in the city toward getting regulations.
CAVANAUGH: Now, Eugene, this particular letter from Bob Filner's office says very -- highlights on the top "stop the crackdown on marijuana dispensaries." If indeed the city does stop enforcing any kind of compliance or stop closing the dispensaries, this is good news for you, but it doesn't necessarily end the federal crackdown against marijuana dispensaries. ; isn't that right?
DAVIDOVICH: Definitely. And I applaud the mayor for take ache proactive approach to regulating medical marijuana and safe access to this medicine for so many patients in San Diego who desperately need it. Of the reaction of the city attorney's office, and Mr. Goldsmith as well was extremely positive. He asked the mayor to actually take action on it. And in fact today we saw action. The stop the crackdown letter clearly stops the continued waste of so much money and so many resources of our taxpayers on this crackdown safe access to medicine that helps so many rather than spending those resources on regulating this issue. So now, finally, we can have the resources freed up within the city to begin this discussion again to regulate this issue, whether it's reenact the medical marijuana task force or take up where they left off and bring it to the council again. But this is a huge step forward in the issue of safe access in San Diego. And I applaud and congratulate the medical marijuana community for today. This is a huge step forward.
CAVANAUGH: Let me take a phone call from someone who is working against dispensaries, he's with San Diegans for safe neighborhoods. Scott Chipman is on the line. Welcome to the program.
NEW SPEAKER: Thank you for having me. And because you have such a completely imbalanced panel, I hope you'll let me make three points.
CAVANAUGH: Quickly, Scott.
NEW SPEAKER: There's dispensaries are illegal under state law because the state law requires patient primary care giver relationship. The advising of these dispensaries has clearly been targeted to the youth culture as evidenced in Mota magazine with young girls in bikinis smoking marijuana, dispensaries referring to Cheech and Chong, and the websites showing young people purchasing marijuana. And finally, 30-day teen use in San Diego has increased by over 70% each year among 11th graders while we've been debating marijuana stores,
DAVIDOVICH: This is completely untruthful and an inaccurate representation of what the state law is.
CAVANAUGH: Yew yean.
DAVIDOVICH: The appellate courts have weighed in on this issue. They have clearly stay stated sale of marijuana is legal in San Diego. We have not seen any increase in crime even from the unregulated dispensaries. We have seen a decrease in crime. And the care giver relationship that Mr. Chipman talks about is simply untrue. His organization is responsible for driving around town writing down the addresses of every dispensary and submitting them to Mr. Goldsmith's office.
CAVANAUGH: Let me just stop this from moving into this direction right now. I would imagine, Alex, if indeed the city did take up again your recommendations or reopen them and relook at them, that voices such as Scott's would be heard in this discussion, and they were heard when you were making those recommendation; is that right?
KREIT: Yeah. The task force, we had public meetings, and we were open to folks from the community to come in. Everybody shared their opinions, their concerns. And we had a pretty broad section of people on the task force itself. A former police officer, a doctor, somebody from a religious background. So a pretty diverse group of folks. And I think the reality is that there's a small subsection of people out there who just want to rewrite the state law, who wish that prop 215 had never passed. And the reality is that the state law is the state law. Medical marijuana dispensaries are allowed. The California courts of appeals have said consistently at this point that these collective cooperatives are legal. So the job of the City of San Diego I think is to recognize that and regulate it. And I think the best way to speak to the concerns that people in the community have is through regulation. Because that's how you cut out the abuses. And I think none of us want to see the abuses.
CAVANAUGH: To the point that you made earlier, Mr. Goldsmith, in your letter, you also criticized what you refer to as the mayor's drama and his reference to the need for demonstrations by medical marijuana advocates. Do you think this was an inflammatory statement that the mayor made, and is it in your opinion -- was it unnecessary?
GOLDSMITH: It was unnecessary. And yes, it was too much drama. I think as I've explained in other forms. I think it's a period of adjustment. And we need to give the mayor some slack as far as adjusting to a new office. I certainly will work with him in my office. He's in office for a month, he could have done it a different way. So it's a learning experience. And we're going to try to work through that. Let me respond a little bit to Mr. Chipman. Our role, and we've split it up among different jurisdictions, but our role is to enforce the city ordinances. And that is not going to happen as long as we don't get cases. But to the extent that there's violation of federal or state laws, that's why we have state prosecutors, the attorney general's office, the District Attorney, and the U.S. attorney. And they make their decisions on their own. We won't be involved in those. But we're just talking here about the city zoning ordinance.
CAVANAUGH: To your knowledge, has the city attorney's office or the San Diego City police department worked with county law enforcement, with federal law enforcement prosecutors to help close down collectives in San Diego?
GOLDSMITH: Yes, when we're involved in an enforcement action which we were -- and I just want to say a little bit about my office, our lawyers did an incredibly good job. I know there's people who don't like the fact that we were successful, but we were successful and other jurisdictions have tried to do similar using restraining orders, and they were unsuccessful. We did it the right way. But we were under the direction to go through enforcement action, and we will share information and work with all other enforcement agencies as we do in all of our cases where we're in enforcement actions.
CAVANAUGH: In the code compliance has been turned off with this letter from the mayor, if the U.S. attorney's office would ask you to help them close down a dispensary within the limits of the City of San Diego, would you pursue that?
GOLDSMITH: Oh, absolutely not. We won't have any information from neighborhood code compliance to share. That's where we get our information from San Diego police department and from neighborhood code compliance. If they don't give us information, then we don't have anything to share. We don't have our own law enforcement agency within my office, and we don't purport to do that. So no, there's nothing for us to share.
CAVANAUGH: Is it your contention, Jan Goldsmith, that basically you as city attorney don't have a dog in this fight? In other words you don't necessarily have an opinion as to whether or not these collectives are a good thing for San Diego or a bad thing
GOLDSMITH: That's not my role, and that's correct. I don't. My office culture that we've created is we don't have a policy dog in the race. That doesn't mean we're not aggressive when we're directing our attention toward enforcement. But we all have our own personal opinions on thing, and we keep them out of our legal practice. That's how we survive working with all the parties.
CAVANAUGH: Eugene, are there still any dispensaries operating in the City of San Diego?
DAVIDOVICH: Unfortunately there is a serious lack of regulated and legal safe access in the City of San Diego. There's currently an environment of fear where patients have to turn to either the black market, the streets or folks operating under the radar and providing safe access to others to get their medicine. And it is very difficult, and a lot of folks are suffering. And this continued relationship between the city and the feds, Laura Duffy's office, is shocking. It seems that Mr. Goldsmith was elected to represent the citizens of the City of San Diego, not to enforce federal law. And although I'm happy to hear that moving forward their office won't be working with the feds, but it is shocking that over the last two years, not only so much money has been spent, but there has been a clear hand in hand relationship with the feds and our city to eradicate safe access rather than to devote those resources to creating a solution, to regulating this issue once and for all.
CAVANAUGH: Would you like to respond, Mr. Goldsmith?
GOLDSMITH: Our community justice division does that, and as many cases where we have information, we will when we're dealing with drug cases, when we're dealing with gang problems, we share information. It's well understood among law enforcement that we do that. And that's how we all work together, for example, gang, and I'm not saying there's gangs involved. They don't know the difference between misdemeanors, felonies or federal law and state law. We share information, and we do it aggressively. That's how we fight crime. In this case, we chose a civil approach, civil litigation rather than criminal. But it's the same approach in that we're dealing with our local ordinances. The
CAVANAUGH: I'm going to endure on conversation here because I'm out of time, but I do want to mention a couple of things. We did invite Laura Duffy, U.S. attorney, to be on the program today. She was out of the district. And to Scott Chipman. As this topic progress, and the City of San Diego, perhaps the City Council, begins to debate it, we will be inviting all voices on this program to talk about this. Today we were focused on the particular legal issue that arose when mayor Bob Filner was talking to Americans for safe access. And I want to thank my guests very much. City attorney, Jan Goldsmith, and Alex Kreit, and Eugene Davidovich. Thank you all very much.
GOLDSMITH: Thank you.
KREIT: Thank you
DAVIDOVICH: Thank you.