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Medical Marijuana High On San Diego Council’s Agenda

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Aired 7/25/11

Strict rules limiting where medical marijuana shops can operate can be overturned or sent to the voters next spring. The city council Monday addresses the issue Monday.

— On a hot, steamy day in July, Vey Linville stands in front of a medical marijuana collective in Pacific Beach. Despite the warm weather, 50-year-old Linville looks dapper in a crisp, gray suit. A tube snakes up from the oxygen tank sitting beside him and curls under his nose. Linville is suffering from severe emphysema. He rejected his doctor’s suggestion he undergo a double lung transplant. Instead, he turned to medical marijuana.

A marijuana plant from the home of medical marijuana advocate Dennis Peron.
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Above: A marijuana plant from the home of medical marijuana advocate Dennis Peron.

"I joined a collective here in San Diego and drank cannabis medicines and was able to stop taking all the pharmaceuticals they were giving me to breathe," he said. "And I have been able to not get a transplant and continue living."

Linville is perhaps the model medical marijuana patient: Someone with a serious disease who uses cannabis to help alleviate his suffering.

He and other supports say San Diego’s regulations on collectives are too harsh. Among the restrictions, a 600-foot buffer is required between a collective and schools, churches, parks and other areas. Supporters say that effectively bans collectives in the city.

"If this ordinance had taken effect, what we have seen is a mass closure of every single facility in the city of San Diego," said Eugene Davidovich, with the San Diego Chapter of American’s for Safe Access." "And then, maybe, a small handful opening up a year down the line. So you have a year with no access."

Now supporters have gathered enough signatures to let voters decide in June whether the regulations should stand or not. The petition drive is forcing the city council to reconsider the issue. It can either repeal the current regulations or let the voters decide.

Councilwoman Marti Emerald called the latest move frustrating.

"I believe this referendum is totally driven by people who operate these shops and don’t want the city messing with their cash flow. I think that’s it," she said.

Emerald said the council’s been working on the issue for two years and came up with what it thought was a reasonable solution. She said if it’s not acceptable, then it’s time for the issue to go to the voters.

"I don’t know what the compromise would be. And I don’t know how much support there would be, going forward, to reconvene the task force or reconfigure it," Emerald said. "It was a lot of work. It was expensive."

Putting the measure on the ballot would be expensive too. It would cost San Diego hundreds of thousands of dollars. Emerald says it’s an important issue that’s worth the money. But other council members believe it’s a cost the city can’t afford.

And it’s not clear what would happen if the regulations did go up for a public vote.

San Diegans have weighed in on marijuana issues before. They followed the state in 1996 by approving Prop. 215, which legalized medical marijuana. And in 2010 they followed the state again, rejecting Prop. 19, which would have legalized small amounts of pot for personal use.

Political Scientist Vladimir Kogan said those votes aren’t good indicators of what San Diegan’s may decide about the current regulations becasue the voting population has changed since 1996 and the more recent Prop 19 didn’t deal with medical uses. He said when it comes to pot, voters tend to take a not-in-my-backyard approach.

"The statewide votes are very broad. And they ask the question: 'Do you think patients who need medical marijuana should get it?' And I think many people would say yes," Kogan said. "And then you come back to them and say: 'Do you want a medical marijuana dispensary in your neighborhood?' And the same voters will say no."

Those who don’t want medical marijuana dispensaries in their neighborhoods have made their voices heard too. Opponents of medicinal pot say the law is being abused and that many people who use it don’t have serious medical conditions.

During a city council meeting last March when the regulations were approved, San Diegan Marcy Beckett said the stricter the law, the better.

"I’m the parent of two teenagers and I’m very concerned about how these marijuana shops are increasing our kids’ acceptance of marijuana and their access to marijuana," she said,

But access is what supporters of medical marijuana are worried about too. They say the city’s rules will relegate the few pot shops allowed to out-of- the way places. Whether the issue will be relegated to the voters - or go back to the drawing board for the city council - will be decided Monday afternoon.

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