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Pot Task Force Starts Rolling

An audio recording of this interview will be posted here within a few hours of the live broadcast. A transcript will also be added within 24 hours. Thank you for your patience.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. You're listening to These Days on KPBS. The new San Diego Medical Marijuana Task Force was approved by the San Diego City Council only one day before police raids closed 14 medical marijuana collectives in the county. The police closures certainly spotlight a Catch-22 for medical marijuana in San Diego. City officials are saying no medical marijuana outlet is really allowed in the city because no zoning designation has been determined for them. So the task force is supposed to come up with recommendations for zoning requirements for medical marijuana cooperatives. It was, however, something odd about the first meeting of the task force last Friday: no one from the mayor’s office or the police department showed up. Could this mean there is opposition ahead for the recommendations the task force comes up with? Joining me now is Alex Kreit, chair of the city’s medical marijuana task force and professor of Thomas Jefferson School of Law. Alex, welcome back.

ALEX KREIT (Chair, Medical Marijuana Task Force, City of San Diego): Thanks so much for having me.

CAVANAUGH: Now, let’s talk about the primary mission of the task force. The city is saying there’s no land use code or category for medical marijuana cooperatives and that zoning has to be changed before anyone can open a medical marijuana cooperative. What do you see missing from our current zoning regulations that doesn’t cover these cooperatives?

KREIT: Well, I think that what’s missing is something that specifically addresses medical marijuana cooperatives. Medical marijuana cooperatives, I think, don’t really fit neatly into any of the existing zoning categories, and if you look at what cities and counties have done in – across the state, there’ve been over three dozen different cities and counties that have adopted ordinances specifically covering collectives and cooperatives and these ordinances include regulations about things like zoning, land use permits, how collectives and cooperatives are going to get the permits to operate, and various regulations about the use of these collectives. For example, hours that they can operate, security measures that the collectives and cooperatives have to undertake, those types of things. And so San Diego just does not have that type of medical marijuana collective specific ordinance right now.

CAVANAUGH: You know, medical marijuana has been legal in California for actually quite some time now. I wonder why the City of San Diego is just getting around to recognizing that, oh, perhaps we need new zoning regulations for these particular cooperatives.

KREIT: Umm-hmm, well, yeah, I think even though medical marijuana has been legal in California for some time, since Proposition 215 thirteen years ago, I think that the reason it’s becoming such an issue now is that for a lot of that time, I think, patients were hesitant and scared to open up collectives and cooperatives and largely this was because of federal law. Especially under the Bush administration, there were regular raids of collectives and cooperatives, even the ones that were operating as legitimately as they possibly could under the state law. So now with the Obama administration coming in, Attorney General Holder has said that their policy is not to raid or prosecute collectives and cooperatives that are operating in compliance with state law. So I think that that has a big part to do with this, that now more patients are – feel safer about opening up collectives and cooperatives now that the Obama administration has made that announcement.

CAVANAUGH: And aren’t there like food co-ops and things of this nature that already operate in San Diego? What kind of zoning regulations are they under and why wouldn’t they apply to a marijuana cooperative?

KREIT: Umm-hmm. Yeah. I think food cooperatives and those sorts of things, I think, have some – would have some similarities and some of the legal structure but the zoning regulations look generally at the types of use that the entity is putting the area to, so is being used to dispense to dispense pharmaceuticals? Is it being used as a doctor’s facility, that sort of a thing. And I think under that – those categories, medical marijuana cooperatives arguably don’t really fit neatly into any of them right now.

CAVANAUGH: Who is on your task force, Alex?

KREIT: Umm-hmm.

CAVANAUGH: What kind of organizations are included?

KREIT: Yeah, I think we’ve really got a great and diverse group on the task force. There’s eleven members. We have, among other folks, an ex-police officer, someone who’s on the San Diego Police Department for 20 years, John Minto. We’ve got a highly respected reverend, A. Wayne Riggs. We’ve got folks who – we’ve got a small business owner, we’ve got a medical marijuana patient, we’ve got a medical marijuana collective operator, and we’ve got a number of land use people, folks with land use background. So I think it’s a really, really great group. And, obviously, we’ve only had one meeting so far but just judging by the first meeting, it seems like a group that’s dedicated to working together to hammer out this issue and come to a sensible solution that everyone can, if not be thrilled with at least support and live with.

CAVANAUGH: Now, as I mentioned in the opening, there was no one from the mayor’s office represented at your opening meeting, no one from the DA’s office, County DA’s office there. Do you see that as – Does that indicate anything to you? Or is that – Did they just have something to do that Friday night?

KREIT: Umm-hmm. Yeah, it’s hard to say at this early stage. I’ve reached out to folks at the DA’s office and talked with them and I know that they, from my conversations with them over there, I know that they internally are discussing whether or not to participate in the task force. The first meeting was relatively short notice. The task force was actually officially appointed only the Tuesday before the first meeting and the meeting was noticed that Tuesday. So – And at the first meeting, although there was some substantive discussion, a lot of it was sort of administrative type tasks, choosing a vice chair, figuring out the times for the upcoming meetings, so I wouldn’t read too much into it at this early stage. But I would say that I know that all the task force members would love to have the District Attorney’s office and the police department and the mayor’s office involved in this process. And I certainly encourage them to come to the meetings to submit their input because I really think that it’s only by coming together that we can come up with recommendations that we’re all happy with, that work effectively. You know, and I think right now the question really is, it’s not whether qualified patients are legally allowed to obtain marijuana, it’s how they’re going to get it. And if we don’t have regulations that determine how these dispensaries and collectives are going to operate, then patients are going to be forced to street dealers and that’s not good for either the patient or for the community because it just feeds illegal drug dealing. So I think we’re going to be much better off if we have very closely regulated and controlled collectives and cooperatives. And my hope is that the folks from the law enforcement will come to that view and work with the task force in trying to formulate workable regulations.

CAVANAUGH: Now, I realize that you just had one meeting but is there a sense that you’re going to be looking to other – what other communities have done in order to regulate medical marijuana cooperatives and so forth? And if so, give us an example of someplace you think that’s doing it well.

KREIT: Umm-hmm. We are looking at what other cities and counties have done and that’s one nice thing, at least, from the task force’s perspective is that we do have a lot of good examples of regulations that are out there. As I said, about three dozen, a little over three dozen cities and counties, have adopted ordinances along the lines of what the task force – the issues the task force is looking at. And it’s hard to pluck out ones specifically that are especially good and I’m sure different people have different views. One of the ones we looked at was Los Angeles County, for example. The City of Los Angeles is still having debates about what kinds of ordinances they might adopt but the County has had in place since 2006 a fairly comprehensive and, from my understanding of the issue, a well run set of ordinances. And that ordinance there includes a conditional use permit process where a dispensary, if they want to open up, has to make certain particular findings about what kind of – or showings about what kind of impact they might have in the surrounding neighborhood, that sort of thing, and that it also incorporates regulations about things like security, requiring collectives and cooperatives to have a security – licensed security guard on the facility, to have cameras, that sort of thing, regulates hours of operation, whether or not patients are allowed to use medicine on the premises, those sorts of items, so I think Los Angeles County is a good example. Oakland, I think, is a good example. They were one of the early adopters of these kinds of regulations and I think that they – their story is a especially good one because when – before they adopted their regulations, it was really, in some ways, uncharted territory. They were really early into this process and they had a number of dispensaries and collectives that were not operating with a lot of oversight and that were of concern to community members and now, for a number of years now, they’ve had these regulations in place and it seems like everyone in the community is really happy with how it’s turned out, that the collectives are operating legitimately, they’ve taken the illegitimate operators out of the picture, and now they’re collectives that are great neighbors, that everyone in the community is happy with, that aren’t causing problems and that are supplying medicine safely and effectively to patients.

CAVANAUGH: Now, I remember when we were talking earlier in the year, just a few weeks ago, as a matter of fact, about medical marijuana in San Diego, there were other issues that came up, the idea of whether or not there can be any sales for profit or does sales tax apply or do these cooperatives have to incorporate? Is the San Diego Medical Marijuana Task Force going to look at any of those issues?

KREIT: I think that those issues may very well come up but primarily right now the task force is concerned with land use and zoning. The city council, in establishing the task force – The task force is constituted for a year and is going to be looking at various things throughout the year. But right now, under the resolution, we’ve been tasked specifically with coming up with land use and zoning regulations to give to the council by the end of this calendar year. So that’s really the focus at this point. In relation to that, we may look at questions about whether perhaps, as part of land use or zoning that there would be some interest in requiring collectives to give evidence that they’re operating in a nonprofit fashion. I know some cities and counties who included those sorts of things in their ordinances, but the focus right now is certainly on land use and zoning more than anything else.

CAVANAUGH: Now as you say, you’re going to be gathering up your recommendations and submitting them to the city council by the end of the year, that’s your agenda. Do you know what the city council is then going to be doing with them? Do you know what the procedure will be from there?

KREIT: Umm-hmm. Well, the procedure will be that we formally present the recommendations to city council. I believe at this point that that is planned for, I think, December 8th at the council meeting on that date. And I think it will – certainly, it’s going to be up to the city council as to what they do. My hope is that if we come up with a sensible set of regulations that the city council will get behind it. The task force was established by the city council and, I think, with the hope that we would come to them with some helpful regulation – recommendations and guidance for their – for them to take action with. So, obviously, it’s hard to say until it actually occurs but my hope is that the recommendations we come up with are ones that the city council will get behind and will think that we’ve done a good job as a task force.

CAVANAUGH: Well, Alex Kreit, you’ve given us, I think, a really good overview of the process right now, and we’ll check back with you.

KREIT: Great. Thanks so much.

CAVANAUGH: I’ve been speaking with Alex Kreit, chair of the city’s medical marijuana task force and a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law. When we return, we will be talking to Hacksaw Hamilton about the Chargers’ two and two record. Stay with us as These Days continues here on KPBS.

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