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San Diego Eases Pot Dispensary Rules — But Just A Little

Photo caption:

Photo by Tarryn Mento

People line up in front of A Green Alternative in Otay Mesa on the day of its grand opening, March 20, 2015.

The City Council passed a package of updates to its land development code, including slightly relaxed rules on medical marijuana dispensaries and charter schools.

Opening a medical marijuana dispensary will get the slightest bit easier under an update to the city's land development code the City Council approved Monday.

San Diego's regulations governing "medical marijuana consumer cooperatives" are notoriously strict. The businesses cannot be within 1,000 feet of a "sensitive use" — which includes parks, schools and churches — or another dispensary. Before Monday's change, those 1,000 feet were measured in a straight line regardless of any topographical or constructed barriers.

Now the city will measure the same distance along city streets or sidewalks, rather than straight through buildings or freeways that impede access to the dispensary.

Amanda Lee, a project manager with the city's Development Services Department, told council members that the change would bring consistency to the way the city treats businesses affected by "sensitive use" restrictions. She added the city still has discretion to reject a proposed marijuana dispensary through the conditional use permit process.

Kimberly Simms, a San Diego lawyer specializing in medical cannabis law, told KPBS that while the change was far from ground-breaking, it was a small step in the right direction.

"Those who are part of the regulated cannabis industry are happy with the small, incremental steps," she said.

One of the city's strictest rules stays in place: No City Council district can have more than four dispensaries, creating a citywide cap of 36. Simms said even under the relaxed changes, there would still likely be neighborhoods or districts with no feasible location for a legal dispensary.

The update does not affect the city's many medical marijuana delivery services.

Also among Monday's approved updates was a change to the permitting process for charter schools. New charter schools can avoid burdensome regulations and permits if they have fewer than 300 students.

Councilman Scott Sherman said the city was unnecessarily tough on charter schools, and the relaxed rules would improve education.

"Instead of spending tens of thousands of dollars on consultants, (charter schools) can actually take those resources and spend them on the kids that they're trying to educate," he said.

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