San Diego Advances Recreational Pot Shop Rules

Thursday, December 15, 2016
By Andrew Bowen

The San Diego Planning Commission on Thursday forwarded new regulations on recreational marijuana sales to the City Council, but gave a cold reception to a proposed ban on the so-called marijuana supply chain.

The rules would take the city's existing ordinance regulating medical marijuana dispensaries and apply the same rules to non-medical sales. The existing ordinance requires dispensaries to be at least 1,000 feet from a school, church, park or other dispensary. The rules would also clarify the definition of a park to exclude open space and riparian areas with little to no public access.

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Commissioners voted unanimously to forward the rules onto the City Council, which has final say on whether to adopt or amend them. The Planning Commission is a board of community members appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the City Council that makes recommendations on land use and zoning issues.

While the proposed regulations would allow sales of recreational marijuana, they would prohibit commercial cultivation, processing, storage and testing. They would also ban marijuana delivery services that are not tied to a licensed storefront dispensary. Commissioners recommended the City Council eliminate the prohibitions and craft a new ordinance that would allow for separate licensing of delivery-only services.

"I agree that banning it and having the supply chain come from someplace else we have no control over is not a great idea," said Commissioner Douglas Austin.

The San Diego City Council approved its ordinance regulating medical marijuana dispensaries in February 2014. Advocates for the marijuana industry say the rules are too restrictive and inadvertently encourage the black market because the few legal dispensaries cannot keep up with demand across the city.

Planning Commission Chair Stephen Haase expressed frustration that staff was not proposing more substantial changes to the existing regulations, and that they have led to an unfair distribution of licensed pot shops across the city. Council districts 2, 6 and 8 have reached the maximum of four licensed dispensaries, while council districts 4, 7 and 9 have none.

A loosening of the restrictions on marijuana sales could bring in significantly more money for San Diego, after voters in the city approved a 5-percent tax on non-medical marijuana sales. The measure was billed as a way for San Diego to offset the costs of legalization to law enforcement.

Kimberly Simms, a lawyer who represents businesses in the marijuana industry, said she was encouraged by the Planning Commission's discussion on Thursday and that she expected the new City Council would be more open to re-writing the ordinance as the commissioners recommended.

"Today filled me with a lot of optimism, certainly more optimism than I have felt in a long time as it pertains to San Diego's regulations of the cannabis industry," she said. "I think we're turning a corner here."

The City Council on Tuesday approved a 45-day moratorium on recreational marijuana sales, meant to cover the time during which the city develops new land use restrictions. Proposition 64, which passed overwhelmingly in San Diego, legalized possession and cultivation of small amounts of marijuana immediately in California. Sales for non-medical purposes will remain illegal until 2018.