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Pot Dispensaries Remain In Legal Limbo


We examine why some marijuana dispensaries must close before the rules are set.

GLORIA PENNER (Host): It has to do with medical marijuana. So, JW…

VICENTE CALDERON (Editor, Was he doing some practice research?

JW AUGUST (Managing Editor, KGTV 10News): Which I need after that.

PENNER: That’s right. The City of San Diego is working on regulations for medical marijuana dispensaries. City council committees have passed some rules but the full council has yet to take a vote. Meanwhile, at least a dozen dispensaries have been ordered to close and some critics say that rules are being enforced before they’re even set. So, JW, if there’s no ordinance in place establishing the rules then on what basis can those dispensaries be ordered to shut down?

AUGUST: Yes, I knew that this was my subject and I knew that you were going to ask me that question and I kept wondering, well, how can they do that? Is it – Did the chicken come before the egg? Or the egg come before the chicken? I think it’s a chicken and egg thing. I think the bottom line is here that San Diego has resisted, the County and the City, since 1996, the medical marijuana initiative, and they looked for ways to make it painful, as painful as possible, for all involved.

PENNER: Well, you’ve kind of answered but not totally.

AUGUST: Sort of.

PENNER: All right. Let’s take what JW says as verbatim and pursue it from there. Lorie Hearn, why is dispensing medical marijuana, now that is the California law, still a problem?

LORIE HEARN (Executive Director/Editor, Watchdog Institute): Well, it’s a problem because the dispensaries have opened up but there is no ordinance that really governs them locally, sets out, for example, the zoning of where they can be located. The local municipalities have a right to say – to regulate where certain businesses go and have certain policies about certain businesses, and that’s the problem. But it’s been since 1996 and we still don’t really have a clear cut action on this and there’s a tension here between the folks who feel that they want to open a dispensary because it’s legal in California but they face this problem because the City of San Diego has not let them know exactly how they can do it legally.

AUGUST: Umm-hmm.

PENNER: So we’re really back to the whole issue of drugs. I’m going to bring you in on this, Vicente, and also our listeners. Latest poll results indicate that the people of California actually want to legalize marijuana. And, in fact, there is even a proposition that has qualified for the November ballot that would allow marijuana to be legally sold and taxed in the State of California. So recognizing that, are we saying that the City of San Diego is footdragging for some reason that we do not understand? Vicente.

CALDERON: I think – I’m not very well versed on this matter. I don’t really understand. I try. I read a little bit because I see that we, on the Mexican side, don’t have a clue what’s going on. We just believe that the Americans are just happy with the possibility to get marijuana.

AUGUST: Well, let me ask you this, would the cartels be unhappy if we legalize marijuana? What do you think their take would be?

CALDERON: I’m not sure but I think they will not be happy. They will try to find a way to use this to make another market for it but that will decrease part of the profit from them.

AUGUST: Right.

CALDERON: That’s what I think.

AUGUST: So it’s to – It would be prof – It might even help with the crime issue.


AUGUST: Okay, just…

PENNER: All right. Well, let’s hear from Marcy in Pacific Beach. I’ll repeat our number, 1-888-895-5727, 895-KPBS. We’re asking how and why the City of San Diego is dragging its feet when it is legal to sell medical marijuana in the State of California. And we’d like to hear from you. And now we’re going to hear from Marcy. Marcy, you’re on with the editors.

MARCY (Caller, Pacific Beach): Oh, hi. Yes, I think that the marijuana shops are not legally allowed by code right now and you need – the code needs to be enforced, and then when the new regulations are in place, the City can make sure that every shop or every store, you know, comes into compliance with Attorney General guidelines. And right now, they aren’t. They – the primary caregiver has to provide other services like grocery shopping, transportation, whatever, besides marijuana and that’s not what’s happening. These stores are just targeting recreational users, and marijuana is not safe for use and I have two teenagers and I don’t want to see them in our community. Thank you.

PENNER: Just one question, Marcy. I hope you’re still there. When you say that it’s not up to code, what code are you talking about?

MARCY: Oh, there is no legal zone. There is no – The Development Services has already sent out a memo in the fall that said there is no zone for these marijuana dispensaries, therefore they cannot issue a land use permit or a business tax certificate. So they are existing in violation of city code and that’s what the City is cracking down on.

PENNER: And my understanding is that several city council committees are trying to develop the rules and regulations…

AUGUST: Right.

PENNER: …so that there will be. Go ahead, JW.

AUGUST: Well, yeah, the Safety – what, Neighborhood Safety and Planning has made recommendations like where they should be located. I wrote this all down. They should maybe consider nonprofit, which I like because I think that a lot of these guys are in it for the – these dispensers are in it for the bucks. Let’s not be silly. It’s about making a buck or two. Of course, this is capitalism but I don’t know if it’s a good idea to let these guys make any money off of this. And they also wanted to – mandatory background checks and no minors, which I’d like. I think that’s a good idea. What amazed me when I read about this, they said it costs the City $35,000 to process a permit. And I have no idea what they could spend 35 grand on but then that’s the City.

PENNER: That’s one of the issues. If it’s costing the City then shouldn’t the City charge back those businesses? Lorie Hearn.

HEARN: Well, that’s one of the things they’re discussing, and saying that the businesses should. I, too, was wondering what was so expensive about processing those permits and it just makes me think that they must – they must be contemplating a lot of different regulations that these dispensaries would have to meet in order to be permitted and so maybe it’s going to take a lot of paperwork and a lot of actual onsite visits and who knows what to make sure that the business is actually complying.

PENNER: Marcy, thank you very much for your call. Let’s hear now from David in Encinitas. David, you’re on with the editors.

DAVID (Caller, Encinitas): Yeah, thank you for having me. On the cost of processing the permit, the question would be will that cost go away if they weren’t processing permits? You know, they shift those costs around so that – as they will. My comment had to do with the fact that there’s no legal source of supply for marijuana dispensaries. I saw last month an AP article on organized crime superfarms, people, you know, border cartel superfarms on public lands, of which California, of course, has a very large amount of, so apparently, you know, pulling water out of the seine and irrigating, that sort of thing, so I would say the drug cartels are positioning themselves or – to supply and are probably already supplying some of…


DAVID: …the dispensary market.


PENNER: Very, very interesting comment, David. JW August.

AUGUST: Yeah, that’s going to be an issue because we are – where is the pot coming from? And they are, they are. The cartels on this side of the border, there are actually some of these up in Cleveland National Forest, you know, very sophisticated operations. Every once in a while the law enforcement’ll bust them but it’s definitely organized crime because I saw some still pictures from a raid and it’s very expensive irrigation pipes. It’s not mom and pop organizations, it’s big money, lots of dollars.

CALDERON: And it’s still marijuana, one of the main sources of income for these organizations, over heroin and other – Probably it’s increasing with methamphetamine but still the main source of income from – come from marijuana so…

PENNER: So we just have a few seconds left. Lorie, put your good thinking cap on. So let’s say that the proposition in November does pass and marijuana’s legalized in California and you can sell it and tax it and all that. It’s still a question of the supply. You know, where would it come from? Would people then go out and farm marijuana legally?

HEARN: They very well might. It seems to me, though, that the price might come down unless the taxes on it were so high that that made the cost go down but it seems to me if you – it’s sort of the old competitive, in any industry, idea, that if there’s – if there are enough people producing it, the cost is going to go down.

PENNER: Okay, you get the last ten seconds, JW. I mean, maybe – could this be an answer, taxing marijuana and help our budget in the State of California?

AUGUST: Well, if it does happen, Governor Schwarzenegger will probably take credit for it.

PENNER: Okay, well thank you very much, JW August of 10News. And thank you, Vicente Calderon, And for her debut on the show, Lorie Hearn, we thank you for being with us, the Watchdog Institute. This has been the Editors Roundtable. I thank our callers. I thank our listeners. I’m Gloria Penner.

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