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S.D. Council Bound By Pot Decision

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Aired 7/26/11

San Diego rescinded its own rules on Monday regulating the distribution of medical marijuana. Not much is likely to change in the next year.

— The San Diego City Council finds itself in a bind over medical marijuana. A signature-gathering effort by medical marijuana advocates forced the city to act and the council voted to overture zoning regulations it enacted last spring.

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.

But legally it is not allowed to enact similar regulations for one year. So, for example, the city can’t just reduce the buffer zone between a dispensary and a school from 600 feet to 400 feet and be done with it.

Law Professor Alex Kreit chaired the city’s Medical Marijuana Task Force. He said the city’s stuck.

“They are much more limited now in what they can do,” he said. “If they enact a new ordinance it’s got to be dissimilar enough from the one that was just repealed that it’s in compliance with the law.”

Kreit said the city’s ordinance might have found more support from all sides if it allowed dispensaries to operate in more commercial and industrial zones within the city. That was among the recommendations issued by the task force to the City Council. However, in its final ordinance, the council restricted the number of zones dispensaries were permitted in.

Without the regulations, the city’s roughly 160 dispensaries are operating without permits. But it’s not likely many will be shut down. Councilman Todd Gloria acknowledged San Diego doesn’t have the manpower to enforce all of its codes.

“Neighborhood code compliance is one of the department’s that’s been significantly impacted by budget cuts,” he said.

Still, Gloria said the lack of regulations leaves dispensaries vulnerable to visits by local code inspectors and federal law enforcement. He said it remains to be seen what steps the city will take next. If the council had let the regulations stand, the issue would have gone to the voters next spring. It’s estimated that could have cost San Diego anywhere from $500,000 to $1 million.

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