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City Council-Repeal of Medical Marijuana Ordinance?

Aired 7/25/11 on KPBS Midday Edition.

Restrictions on medical marijuana collectives are before the San Diego City Council today - and the matter could end up before voters. Advocates gathered enough signatures to qualify for a referendum. The city council takes up the issue at a meeting today.

Marijuana is grown domestically and imported from countries such as Mexico, Canada and Jamaica.
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Above: Marijuana is grown domestically and imported from countries such as Mexico, Canada and Jamaica.

Restrictions on medical marijuana collectives are before the San Diego City Council today -- and the matter could end up before voters. Advocates gathered enough signatures to qualify for a referendum. The city council takes up the issue at a meeting today.

GUESTS:

Alex Kreit, Associate Professor, Thomas Jefferson School of Law, (was chair of the City of San Diego's Medical Marijuana Task Force).

Bob Riedel, Spokesperson and Founder of Mother Earth's Alternative Healing Cooperative, the first permitted dispensary in the county.

Read Transcript

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

CAVANAUGH: Once again, the San Diego City Council has the issue of medical marijuana on the agenda. The council may have thought the debate on where and how medical marijuana could be dispensed within city limits had been settled earlier this year. In April, the council approved restrictions on dispensaries. In return, approved dispense easier would be allowed legally zoned business will bes, something no dispensary has at present. But medical marijuana supporters say the restrictions deny access to sick people and have collected enough signatures to put the question on the ballot. Now, the City Council can either withdraw the new rules or allow a vote of the people. Joining me to discuss the issue are my guests, Alex Kreit is associate professor at the Thomas Jefferson school of law. He was also chair of the City of San Diego's medical marijuana task force.

KREIT: Great to see you Maureen.

CAVANAUGH: Bob Riedel of the mother earth alternative co-op. His co-op is the first permitted dispensary under San Diego county's regulations. . Hi bob.

RIEDEL: How you doing?

CAVANAUGH: Now, Alex, as I said, us were chair of the city's medical marijuana task force. It's my understanding the task force actually didn't like the restrictions that the City Council variable approved; is that right?

KREIT: Yeah, Maureen. Well, the issue was, I served as chair of the city's medical marijuana task force. And it was a task force established by the City Council to give it advice and input on how to regulate the medical marijuana dispensaries in the city. We were comprised of people from all walks of life in the city and all perspectives. Our concern was that the ordinance the City Council passed didn't have enough allowable zones for places to open up. The City Council by and large took most of the recommendations that we gave them. The ordinance is really modeled on our recommendations for the most important. But the key change -- and I think it was a big one -- was that we recommended medical marijuana dispensaries be allowed to ark pry for permits in most commercial zones. The City Council limited that to 1 or 2, so there's only a couple places in the city that dispense easier could open up, and they're in the far flung parts of the city making it inaccessible.

CAVANAUGH: And it is those locations that the dispensaries would be allowed in that is driving the advocates of medical marijuana to try to repeal these restrictions; is that right?

KREIT: Yeah, that really is their primary concern. I think along with the fact that the ordinance that was passed didn't have any sort of grace period. So because of that, if it were to go into effect, it would probably take more than a year, people estimate, for any sequenceary to go through the permitting process. So if this ordinance were to take effect, there would probably be a year or so where everyone would have to shut down, and there would be no medical marijuana dispensaries operating in the city. So I think advocates were concerned that there wouldn't be a grace period that would allow dispensaries to apply for a permit and continue to operate until they have had a decision on the application.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Even though the advocates of medical marijuana say the locations of these new permitted facilities would be way off in the distance somewhere, they wouldn't be accessible to a lot of people who need it, you heard from an all lot of people who felt that the medical marijuana store fronts were being abused, that they were in the wrong places in the City of San Diego. Remind us of that, Alex.

KREIT: That's a lot of people that we heard from in the community that were concerned by what's going on, and I think rightly so. Right now in San Diego, there's no regulation at all. So medical marijuana dispensaries can open up anywhere that they can sign a lease. And sometimes the medical marijuana dispensaries are operating in [the|ed] right way, but there are some rogue operators out there cause a lot of problems in the communities. They don't have to get a permit so there's no over night into who's opening these places up, how they're run, and there's no limitation on where they can be. Some of these places are very crow to residences, in inappropriate areas. So that's why we recommend it as a task forcea these dispensaries only be allowed to open up in commercial and industrial locations.

CAVANAUGH: Now, the question, as I understand before the City Council right now is whether or not to allow the restrictions, the new ordinance to go before the people for a vote or to withdraw the ordinance. If the City Council decides to withdraw the ordinance, what is the status and what happens to marijuana dispensaries within the city Hemets of San Diego?

KREIT: Yeah. If the City Council decides to withdraw the ordinance, then they can go back and draft a new one. I suspect and would hope [that|na|?|] if they decide to withdraw the orrednance, and I think that they should under these circumstances, that they could make a spew changes to what they already have put together and get that passed relatively quickly. I don't think they should and I would hope they wouldn't go back to the drawing board and spend another year trying to rewrite something from scratch. I don't think it's necessary and I don't think even the medical marijuana advocates who are critics of the ordinance think that that's necessary. Pie and large the ordinance is pretty a well drafted set of regulations. I think it's really just that question of how many zones can these places actually apply for permits in.

CAVANAUGH: But some people who oppose medical marijuana dispensaries are saying that if the regulations are withdrawn, then all of the dispensaries in San Diego are illegal and are subject to being shut down.

KREIT: Well, if the regulations are withdrawn, then it's basically back to the status quo. The city attorney's office has taken the position all along that there's no current land use category for these medical marijuana dispensaries. But in the absence of an ordinance that specifically addresses medical marijuana dispensaries, we've seen it's been very hard for the city attorney's office to shut any of these places down because of sort of the details, the legalities are kind of complex. But the reality is that in theory, if there's no ordinance, any of these places that are operation are operation outside of the city land use code. But the reality is unless and until that's more specifically addressing these dispensaries, I think they're going to continue to operate as they've done up to this point in time.

CAVANAUGH: In limbo sort of.

KREIT: Exactly.

CAVANAUGH: Bob ridelling as I said,ing you are of the mother earth alternative co-op, and the first permitted dispensary under San Diego County's regulations. What's the difference between the county and city regulations for medical marijuana co-ops?

RIEDEL: Actually the county is a lot more restrictive. We have a thousand foot from home schools, etc, where the city has 600†feet away from them. Then again in the county it's not as built up as the cities are. There's a lot more open areas so that thousand feet restriction allows co-ops to open.

CAVANAUGH: There seems to be, am I right in thinking more problems with regulations on co-ops in the city? What did you have to do in order to get your dispensary going where you're located now?

RIEDEL: We opened up originally in Fallbrook. And we opened up with the premise of this is truly a medical benefit to people. I'm not a patient myself. And we wanted to maintain standards that are already in the industry, pharmaceutical standards. Even though we were not going to be FDA approved and so on, there are standards out there we adopted those standards and built a relationship with local law enforcement on who we were. And it allowed us to position ourselves to where the ordinance did come out, there were locations to go pick that we already had a toe in the door, they knew who we were, they knew we wanted to do this for the right reasons. These places are for the community, by the community, and we opened up. The most difficult portion of that opening was just finding the location. They came out with a series of top graphical maps that showed the locations, but most of these lobes were unusable areas, no buildings, no roads, things like that. Upon we got lucky, found a place, and it's got a great location as far as freeway access.

CAVANAUGH: Are you out in the boon docks now?

RIEDEL: We're right next to gillespy field. And with the 52 opening up down to the 67, we're right off the freeway. So it makes acceptability real easy.

CAVANAUGH: I read about your co-op, and as you say, you're going to conform with the highest pharmaceutical standards. Most of the people who are involved in in dispensary are over the age of 45. You're really making sure that people who are using medical marijuana are using it for medical reasons. There was a problem, there has been a problem in the City of San Diego people claiming that that's not the case in some of the dispensaries in the city. And I guess in the rest of the county too. What's your reaction to that?

RIEDEL: Well, you know, with the challenge our doctors have is when a patient walks into their door and say this is what's wrong with me, these are the pains I'm feeling, a doctor can't say no you're not. Just like if I were to go interest a doctor and say I have this issue, and I need Vicodin for pain, he's not going to question the pain. He may discuss with me the dosages and the dangers of that -- using that type of medication, but he's still going to issue me the prescription. We're in the same kind of boat with this industry. You have patients that are coming in and saying they have these issues and showing from their primary care physicians that they've kilt with these issues but you look at them and you can't tell if they're sick or not. But that's not our position to make that choice. If a doctor comes in and says this is a patient, and we verify that their doctor's license is still valid, and they have the right to be making these recommendations, we have to honor that. We need to show due diligence that we've made every attempt to verify that the patient is who they are, they are a California resident, and the information they provide under the circumstances is real. Other than that, there's not a whole lot more we can do without discriminating against people.

CAVANAUGH: Alex right, as the head of the city's task force on medicinal marijuana, you heard as you described a lot of people's concerns in the neighborhood about the misuse of marijuana dispensaries. But did you also come up against some hardcore idealogical opposition to this, basically some people who are against the dispensaries would be just simply against any kind of dispensary?

KREIT: I think that's the case, that there is a vocal but I think relatively small group of people in the city who -- they just disagree with medical marijuana. If they could they'd go and repeal prop 215 which legalized medical marijuana in the state, and that's really their agenda. There is a group of people out there who are just Idelogically opposed to it and are trying to refight that battle on this issue. And that's in the task force that's why all the members of it really said that's not our job. Our job isn't to think about what would the members of the task force want the state law to be if it was our job to write the state law. Our job is to say to the City Council here's what the state law it, here's how the City of San Diego should deal with this in light of that.

CAVANAUGH: If the question is put before voters next -- it would come up next June in the City of San Diego, it could cost the city nearly a million dollars for this ballot proposition. Alex do you think it will come to that?

KREIT: I hope not. That's one of the main reasons why I hope City Council today when they meet on this issue strides to draw the ordinance. Everybody knows the city is strapped for cash. I don't think it makes any sense to [end and|and end] a million dollars to put this issue to voters, especially when the City Council really could withdraw the ordinance, make a few changes, I think, and come back with something that while it might not make everybody completely happy, will be acceptable to all sides. The other sort of related issue they think might drive the City Council to stride to withdraw, if they don't withdraw the ordinance, there's another year of legal limbo. If they don't decide to withdraw the ordinance now, there's another one in June. So I think it's the most cost effective for the city, and I think it's just the best policy wise for them to withdraw what they passed, make a few changes quickly and get something on the books as soon as they can that's acceptable to all sides.

CAVANAUGH: Bob Riedel, I know that you intend to be at the San Diego City Council meeting today. What would you like to contribute? What are you going to say at the meeting?

RIEDEL: I'm going to go there just to observe. I'm not going to speak. I just want to keep the pulse of what's going on in the community. We're right next to each other. One does affect the other. The main thing is we want to maintain safe access for these patients, make people aware that we are out here trying to help people, and whether our alternative healing is a part of the community, we want to maintain that and maintain good relations. We just want to kind of see what's going on and make sure we're on top of everything so if we need to adjust and make changings to people people who out there who are afraid of this industry, just the knowledge of what we're really trying to accomplish and who out there is really trying to be helped, we just want to stay in with that pulse.

CAVANAUGH: And ales, will you be speaking in the meeting today.

KREIT: I think I'll offer some comments during the public comment period from the perspective of the task force. And again my hope is that the City Council -- I understand why they passed what they did. This is an issue where the reality is the perfect as possible. And at the City Council meeting this is the ordinance they were able to get enough votes for to pass. But the reality is now I think they're in a position where their choices are either they withdraw this thing or put the city in another year of legal limbo on the issue and spend a million dollars. So my hope is that the City Council will withdraw the ordinance and pass something that adds back in some of the zones that the task force recommended.

CAVANAUGH: I've been speaking with Alex Kreit, former chair of the City of San Diego's medical marijuana task force, and bob Riedel of mother earth alternative co-op in San Diego County. Thank you both so much.

KREIT: Thank you.

RIEDEL: Thank you for having us.

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