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Dozens Vying For San Diego Medical Marijuana Dispensary Permits

Photo by Susan Murphy / KPBS

Above: People submit applications for a medical marijuana dispensary permit with the City of San Diego, on Thursday, April 24, 2014.

Dozens of people showed up at San Diego City Hall early Thursday morning with piles of paperwork and high hopes of opening a medical marijuana dispensary.

Dozens of people showed up at San Diego City Hall on Thursday morning with piles of paperwork and high hopes of opening a medical marijuana dispensary.

The City Council approved new rules in February allowing up to 36 collectives to operate in city limits —four in each council district.

The law limits dispensary locations to commercial and industrial zones and requires them to be 1,000 feet away from each other, as well as schools, parks, churches and child care facilities.

"I'm taking it upon myself to go out and open a shop," said Mark Fowler, as he sat in the 4th floor waiting area for his number to be called.

Fowler has multiple sclerosis and wants to open a medical marijuana dispensary to serve his own needs as well as others who have health issues. He said he’s already met with several landlords.

"We do have potential spots," said Fowler. "We just want to keep the motion going and we don’t want to get the cart before the horse — you know, obtain the place and then not get the license."

Fowler was among about 60 applicants vying for one of 36 conditional use permits needed to operate a dispensary.

But the application process is complicated, expensive and expected to take six months to a year, said Edith Gutierrez, development project manager with the City of San Diego.

"Today is just step one," said Gutierrez. "Basically, we’re just doing a cursory review. If they have all the required documents, we’re taking the project in."

Step two in the application process is a thorough review of submitted documents. Then begins background checks and public hearings.

"After they get the conditional use permit, they’re going to have to go through a separate process which is a public safety permit," explained Gutierrez.

Eugene Davidovich, co-founder of the Alliance for Responsible Medicinal Access, said he expects only about a dozen to make the mark this year.

"There’s a lot of folks that are going to get bumped away from the process later on because of a lack of paperwork or a lack of completeness," Davidovich said.

Davidovich said he's acting as a consultant for several potential dispensary owners and helping them navigate through the application and hearing process. He said during the months-long application process, city leaders need to advise legitimate medical marijuana patients where they can get their medicine.

"Are they supposed to go to the unlicensed facilities," said Davidovich. "Are they supposed to drive out of town to Los Angeles to the nearest licensed one?"

Until the city starts issuing the conditional-use permits, all collectives in the city are considered illegal.

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