San Diego would allow recreational marijuana sales, but would prohibit commercial cultivation of the plant and testing for its safety and potency, under a proposal that goes before the City Council on Tuesday.
City staffers are recommending San Diego apply mostly the same regulations to recreational marijuana shops as currently exist for medical marijuana consumer cooperatives. The practical effect would be that the city's licensed medical marijuana dispensaries could begin selling their products to people 21 and older who don't have a doctor's recommendation.
The proposed ban on cultivation, testing and distribution — termed the marijuana "supply chain" — got a cold reception at its first public hearing last month. Members of the San Diego Planning Commission told city staffers they saw no reason why those operations should be outsourced to faraway cities and counties that choose to allow them.
California will soon begin issuing licenses to all businesses involved in the medical cannabis industry, including cultivation, processing, transporting and testing. State law will also forbid them from doing business with any unlicensed operation.
Kimberly Simms, a lawyer who represents local marijuana businesses, said the city's proposal would go against San Diego's commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions because local dispensaries would have to truck their products in from licensed supply chain businesses in other areas.
"That also takes away jobs from people in San Diego who could be licensed transporters, who could (work at) licensed testing facilities," she said.
The policies council members will consider on Tuesday also include banning any marijuana delivery service that is not connected to a brick-and-mortar licensed dispensary, and banning personal cultivation unless the plants are in "closed and secured structures." Two council members proposed a similar moratorium on personal outdoor cultivation last month, but it was taken out at the request of Councilman Chris Ward. Proposition 64 allows personal outdoor cultivation of up to six plants as long as they are not visible from public property.
Broad support for legalization
California voters last year passed Proposition 64, which legalized possession, cultivation and sharing of small amounts of marijuana for personal consumption. The margin of victory in the state, 57 percent, was reflected almost identically in San Diego County. Support was even greater in the city of San Diego, at nearly 62 percent.
The item on the agenda for Tuesday was not considered at any of the council committees, such as those overseeing public safety or land use. Paulene De Mesa, a spokeswoman for Council President Myrtle Cole, said the recreational marijuana regulations were "quasi-judicial" and that it was standard for them to skip a committee hearing and go directly to the full City Council.
Tuesday's agenda item, however, did not appear to meet the criteria for a quasi-judicial hearing, which involves the application of rules rather than the writing of rules. Other city officials said Cole, who is responsible for putting together meeting agendas, can use her own discretion for whether to send items to committees first.
Retail sales of recreational marijuana are not expected to begin in California before January 2018, when the state begins issuing licenses. Asked if the city was rushing through its debate of marijuana rules, city spokesman Arian Collins said in an e-mail:
"While the state has until January 2018 to develop and release the regulations and permitting strategy, it is plausible that they could implement the program prior to that date. As such, it is important that we have regulations in place before the state takes action. Otherwise, we will be beholden to the state process and relinquish our authority to regulate recreational marijuana locally."
Simms said nothing in Proposition 64 or other state laws could cause the city of San Diego to lose its authority to regulate or ban local marijuana businesses.
Fifteen medical marijuana dispensaries have been granted licenses by the city to open up shop, but not all of them have done so. Marijuana opponents often complain at City Council meetings of the city's apparent inability to keep up with the huge number of unlicensed dispensaries in the city.
Advocates for the cannabis industry say less restrictive land use rules for marijuana shops would create more opportunities for those businesses to operate under the supervision of city officials and to pay the city's tax on recreational marijuana, which goes into effect next year. Thomas Jefferson School of Law professor Alex Kreit said he hoped the city's proposal to keep its pot shop rules mostly unchanged was a temporary measure, and that the council would revisit the issue in the near future.
"If the city is looking at this as just step one in a process that will unfold over the next year," he said, "then I think it's fine."