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San Diego City Council To Consider Medical Marijuana Regulations Again

Above: Interim Mayor Todd Gloria talks about handing the reins over to Mayor Elect Kevin Faulconer.

The San Diego City Council will take another stab at establishing regulations for medical marijuana dispensaries in San Diego at its Feb. 25 meeting, Interim Mayor Todd Gloria said at a media briefing Thursday.

The panel has addressed the issue numerous times since California's Compassionate Use Act was approved by voters more than 17 years ago.

Zoning and operating guidelines passed in 2011 were rescinded after medical marijuana advocates collected enough signatures to force council reconsideration.

The advocates considered the 2011 regulations too restrictive, but taking them off the books had the effect of making all dispensaries within city limits illegal. The interim mayor said the restrictions in the plan to be considered later this month are even tighter.

"Cooperatives must be separated from public parks, churches, child care centers, playgrounds, residential care facilities, schools and other cooperatives by a distance of a thousand feet," Gloria said of the proposed ordinance. "Cooperatives must apply for a conditional use permit with a five-year expiration."

The proposal also calls for a 100-foot buffer from residential zones and would prohibit having on-site medical professionals, to prevent dispensaries from becoming "one-stop shops," Gloria said.

He estimated that, based on digital mapping by the San Diego Association of Governments, around 30 dispensaries would be allowed in San Diego. Most would be in the major industrial zones of Kearny Mesa and Otay Mesa, but some would be in each council district in the city except his own -- which would have none.

As a city councilman, Gloria represents downtown, Hillcrest and North Park, which he said are mostly mixed-use commercial and residential neighborhoods.

He said the city's Planning Commission passed the proposed regulations, with one dissenting commissioner who thought they were too restrictive.

Medical marijuana advocates seem "more cognizant of reality" than they were three years ago, according to the interim mayor. The City Council shot down looser restrictions proposed last year by former Mayor Bob Filner.

The proposed regulations are the result of subsequent council direction, and they went through public vetting during the fall.

Since Gloria took over from Filner Aug. 30, the city has received 34 complaints about dispensaries operating illegally. Of those, only six are believed to still be around, he said.

Gloria also discussed at the media briefing what he will do after handing the reins to Mayor Elect Kevin Faulconer. Even though Gloria will no longer be interim mayor, he will still be City Council president, and is now trying to figure out whether he can accomplish some of his more progressive goals under the Republican Faulconer.

When Gloria gave his State of the City speech last month, he laid out a number of plans, including addressing climate change, passing an infrastructure bond in 2016 and pushing forward a minimum wage hike.

Gloria said Thursday that he endorsed fellow Democrat David Alvarez in the mayor's race because he knew Alvarez agreed with him on all of those plans. Faulconer opposes increasing San Diego's minimum wage, but Gloria said he isn't giving up on it.

"We have a real problem when it comes to inequality in this city, the widening gap between the very rich and the very poor," he said. "I think the best way we can address that is raising the minimum wage locally. I know that during the campaign (Faulconer) expressed opposition to that. That's ok, we'll talk some more about it, we have a number of months to do that. I'd love to convince him. I know that ultimately I may not be successful at that, but ultimately that's a decision I'd love to give to the voters to weigh in on."

The City Council could also appoint a Democrat to fill Faulconer's council seat, giving it the power to override Faulconer's vetoes.

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