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County Sets Rules For Medical Marijuana Shops

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Video published June 25, 2010 | Download MP4 | View transcript

Above: The San Diego County Board of Supervisors approved an ordinance regulating where medical marijuana dispensaries can be located in the unincorporated areas of the county. We discuss how those regulations could affect a patient's ability to access local medical marijuana collectives.

GLORIA PENNER (HOST): The County Board of Supervisors is not a big fan of medical marijuana. So when the supervisors decided to regulate where pot shops can be located rather than ban them altogether, interest and curiosity sprang up, and indeed on Wednesday, the supervisors did issue their decision. KPBS metro reporter Alison St John has the story. What did the county board decide to do Alison?

ALISON ST JOHN (KPBS metro reporter): So they decided to regulate the zoning for these pot shops, as you mentioned should be. And they are saying that they can only go in industrially zoned areas. We should make this clear from the start that this is the unincorporated areas of San Diego. So when you think about industrially zoned areas sure enough a lot of them are mines, cement factories or undeveloped areas.

And secondly, the other restriction is that they have to be 1,000 feet from residential areas, other similar shops, churches, schools. So that's a fairly restricted area that they could actually exist.

PENNER: Don't you have this vision of a big barren area and there's a little store right in the middle of it that sells medical marijuana?

ST JOHN: Well it does seem a little unlikely that you would drive out to perhaps a concrete plant to buy your medical marijuana.

PENNER: But the county also approved a $20,000 processing fee for future medical marijuana dispensaries. What is the purpose for this fee?

ST JOHN: Well they have calculated how much it would cost the county to enforce this with licensing and they calculated it would take another 60 hours a week, so the cost of this extra sheriff's person and the person to actually monitor not just the collective, but also the growing, the facilities where the marijuana is grow would cost. And in order to cover those costs, they're saying any collective would have to pay a fee of between $15,000 to $20,000.

PENNER: What's the reaction of medical marijuana advocates at this point, both the location and the fee.

ST JOHN: Well they are saying that really this is a health retail outlet and not a criminal enterprise that is being regulated. And so they are saying that it's almost impossible to establish a dispensary at any of the sites that are being made available. And that the cost of $20,000 is prohibitive. That's for an extremely large and money making operation not for perhaps a small collective. So they're arguing that really this is very prohibitive kind of restrictions.

PENNER: You know it has been 14 years since medical marijuana has been made legal in California. What prompted the county's Board of Supervisors to take action now?

ST JOHN: Well this is interesting. They're looking around to see what other counties and cities - and everybody is struggling with this issue of how to deal with it. And the fact is that although there were many people who showed up at the hearing before the supervisors saying that they were against allowing any dispensaries at all. They've seen that people who put in bands, that could be challenged legally. It could be that Anaheim right now is in court defending it's ban on dispensaries altogether. So I think the San Diego County Supervisors figured that legally speaking it would be safer to regulate them somehow, and they chosen a really tight way of regulating them, rather than banning them outright.

PENNER: Do you think that there will be any kind of discussion at the county, or maybe it's already begun, about a proposition that's gonna be on the ballot in November, to tax marijuana outright?

ST JOHN: Well, the supervisors did ask their counsel what will happen, if in fact, marijuana is legalized in November. And the legal advisor said that this is really oranges and apples, the two things don't relate. It wouldn't affect any kind of regulations that you adopt right now. You could see the supervisors were having a hard time kind of computing that because obviously if marijuana is legalized the whole game will change.

PENNER: Well right now I notice that Supervisor Pam Slater offered rather a caring and down home bit of advice for medical marijuana users who might have to drive to another city to get their pot. What was her recommendation?

ST JOHN: Well she made the point that if you are driving long distances, as you would probably have to, if you live out in the back country, and you may have to come back into one of the cities that has actually allowed marijuana dispensaries in order to get your supplies. She advised them not to take their medicine until they get home. I mean basically she's saying this could create a problem - the county not making it available. People may have to drive long distances. She said don't smoke it, or eat it, whatever you do with it until you get home.

PENNER: Don't use and drive basically.

ST JOHN: Yes. I mean I think this was a comment that really just highlights the fact that the county is passing the problem on to other jurisdictions.

PENNER: Thank you very much Alison St John.

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