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City Council Examines Medical Marijuana Dispensaries

Video unavailable. Read transcript below.

Video published December 11, 2009 | Download MP4 | View transcript

Above: A task force on medical marijuana dispensaries reported Tuesday to the City Council. Alex Kreit, the chair of the San Diego Medical Marijuana Task Force goes on the record about medical marijuana law and the editors discuss.

GLORIA PENNER (Host): The San Diego City Council is trying to figure out a way to regulate medical marijuana dispensaries sprouting up throughout the city. On Tuesday, a task force presented its recommendations. We asked Alex Kreit, who chairs the task force, his opinion on the state’s medical marijuana law and also how his group’s recommendations might satisfy those for and against the dispensaries. Here’s what he had to say.

ALEX KREIT (Chair, SD Medical Marijuana Task Force): California's law regarding medical marijuana for collectives and cooperatives I think clearly makes medical marijuana collectives and cooperative storefronts legal. That's been the opinion of the attorney general, who has issued guidelines that state that that's been the opinion of local officials across the state, who've all been operating on the assumption that these entities are legal. I'm aware that the district attorney of San Diego County has taken a different view. And so I think that the key task for us was to come up with recommendations that are right there I think in the middle of where most San Diegans are. So I think the tough part quite frankly was dealing with the loud voices on both sides. The folks who are saying we've got to ban this - which in my view is a surefire way to a path to a lawsuit if the city tries to ban something that is legal under state law - and the folks that say, well, the city shouldn't regulate this at all. We tried as much as possible to listen to everyone's opinions with respect, but at the end of the day make recommendations based on where we think that most San Diegans are. And I think that's right there in the middle, allowing for these operations but ensuring that they're very, very strictly regulated.

PENNER: So the San Diego Medical Marijuana Task Force recommendations that were presented to the San Diego City Council on Tuesday are: city permits will be required, dispensaries will be restricted to operate commercial and industrial zones, they must be 1000 ft away from schools, playgrounds, libraries, child-care facilities, and youth centers, and 500ft from other dispensaries. They’re required to operate as a nonprofit and present a plan for doing so the city. They must have approved alarm and security systems and a security guard on site during business hours. And the hours of operation are limited to between 7am and 9pm daily. The city council postponed a decision on the task force recommendations until January fourth. So joining me now to discuss the recommendations are David Rolland, editor of San Diego CityBeat magazine, and Barbara Bry, editor of San Diego News, that’s Thanks to both of you for coming. There are a lot of different interests at play here. Those who don’t think medical marijuana should be legal, those who think it needs to be more regulated, those who want to use it freely. How is it possible to satisfy all those groups? David?

DAVID ROLLAND (San Diego CityBeat): Well, it’s not possible to satisfy everybody immediately. This is one of those things that is going to take some time. And especially the way that we are making up the rules as we go along, it’s just naturally going to be an arduous process. You know, this is marijuana. We are in the midst of kind of a threshold, a landmark time in terms of regulating marijuana. The federal government says it is illegal in any case. The state voters have said we think sick people should be able to have access to it. Now we just need to come up with a way for them to gain access to it, and it’s troublesome.

PENNER: The proposition to legalize medical marijuana was passed all the way back in 1996. Why are we just now thinking about the rules and regulations for medical marijuana dispensaries?

BARBARA BRY ( Well, Gloria, it seems that more medical marijuana dispensaries have sprouted in the last few years, some of them in probably inappropriate locations. So now the issue is coming more to a fore.

PENNER: And that’s because they’re much more visable.

BRY: Yes.

PENNER: Is that it? Alright. Well, some people think that these storefronts should be treated like any business. You know, land use laws, zoning laws… And some see them as businesses that should be police regulated, like a strip joint or a pawnshop. Where do these different views come from?

ROLLAND: Well they come from different attitudes about marijuana, and who smokes marijuana, or who provides marijuana to people that need it either recreationally or for medical reasons. You just have a wide variety of attitudes about it as we move along in trying to craft public policy about it. Those recommendations that you just read kind of suggest that these are very shady, scary places. I don’t now why we wouldn’t have the same attitudes about liquor stores. People say, oh well, these places could be targets for robbery. Well any business that takes in money can be a target for robbery. I think the recommendations are very strict if you come at the issue with the assumption that it is a legal product.

PENNER: Well following the task force recommendations, City Council members heard and hour of public comment on the regulation and operation of medical marijuana dispensaries. Here’s a sample of what was said.

CRICKETT BRADBURN (Supports Medical Marijuana): And we have pharmacies in our neighborhoods that are selling drugs that have worse side effects. That are more addictive, OxyCotin for one which is one of the main problems for teenagers.

SCOTT CHIPMAN (Opposes Medical Marijuana): We have to explain to our kids that marijuana is unhealthy and illegal, and that we don’t want you to use it. But that message is undermined when the drug is being sold in our own neighborhood.

PENNER: So there you are. I mean, those are very, very specific different kinds of opinions. Is there any way to blend them to get these people to all agree on way or another?

BRY: Gloria, I think that you’re not going to be able to get everybody to agree. I think what you can do, and what the task force tried to do, was have a set of regulations that can appease 90% of the population. But people who think marijuana is dangerous and that nobody should smoke it are not going to be happy whatever the City Council does.

PENNER: But the City Council is going to have to do something, David. I mean, does that put them at a rock and a hard place?

ROLLAND: Well they’re between a rock and a hard place no matter what they're talking about. There are different sides to every issue, and they get those jobs because they want to make those decisions. So it is what it is. I believe that they will – I believe that they should have attacked… you know a lot of cities and communities across California addressed this issue a long time before San Diego did. It’s a long time coming. Years ago the city attacked the issue from the patient side, but they never attacked it from the distribution side. So it’s been a long time coming.

PENNER: Well now you have another side too, because during that Council meeting the district attorney’s Assistant Chief of Narcotics said that based on investigation, he’s unaware – and catch this – of any storefront operating legally. So if the district attorney’s office is saying these are illegal, what can we expect?

BRY: Well, Gloria, I think that may be a lost cause. For the district attorney’s office they’ve been unsuccessful in successfully prosecuting any medical marijuana storefront for operating illegally. Remember, a majority of the state’s voters passed this proposition. So a majority of the people in the state are in favor of allowing marijuana use for medical purposes.

PENNER: Ok, well thank you.

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