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San Diego's First Legal Medical Marijuana Dispensary Still In Limbo

With a few members needing to leave early, the San Diego Planning Commission Thursday postponed a hearing on an appeal of an order granting permission to a San Diego State University professor to open a medical marijuana dispensary in a strip mall near Brown Field in Otay Mesa.

In October, a city hearing officer granted a conditional use permit to David Blair to open A Green Alternative in a 1,400-square-foot space at 2335 Roll Drive.

The ruling was appealed by Barbara Gordon, a North County drug prevention specialist. Blair applied for the permit under rules established by the City Council earlier this year.


The regulations require prospective dispensary owners to go through a lengthy permit application process, and also specify zoning and distances to keep the operations away from residences, schools, churches and the like.

In the case of A Green Alternative, the neighborhood is zoned "heavy commercial," and includes a fast-food restaurant, a filling station and a warehouse.

Gordon contends that "heavy commercial" doesn't adequately describe the area because the businesses are patronized by families with children, according to documents on the Planning Commission's website.

She argues a medical marijuana dispensary nearby would be detrimental to the youngsters' health and safety, and also contends the city didn't provide proper notice of October's hearing to shop owners in the strip mall. City staff rejected her points and recommends denying her appeal.

According to a staff report, the dispensary satisfies the city regulations.


A representative of Blair requested the postponement when it became clear that the schedules of some commissioners would not allow them to stay long enough to listen to numerous members of the public who had signed up to speak on both sides of the issue.

Gordon pointed out that a lot of people took time out of their day to attend the meeting, but she did not oppose moving the hearing to Jan. 29.

"I think to properly hear the item — which it deserves — as a full commission that the idea of a continuance properly serves everybody in the community in general of San Diego better," said Chairman Tim Golba, who pointed out that the panel was made up of volunteers.

If A Green Alternative is allowed to open, it would be the first legal medical marijuana dispensary in San Diego and the second in the county. One opened on unincorporated land near El Cajon in July.

The Planning Commission has the final say on the issue, which cannot be appealed to the City Council.

The rules set by the City Council will allow 32 legal marijuana dispensaries within city limits — up to four per council district.

The distance requirements won't allow collectives to operate in District 3, which covers downtown, Hillcrest and North Park.

A couple of other dispensaries have been approved by the hearing officer, though the time to file appeals remains open. City planning staff is still processing other permit applications.

San Diego law enforcement leaders said two weeks ago that they're stepping up efforts to close illegal dispensaries following a rash of citizen complaints and the discovery of weapons at a shop in the Mount Hope neighborhood.

The City Attorney's Office announced Thursday that a landlord was fined $250,000 for repeatedly leasing to illegal dispensaries in the Midway District, North Park and Pacific Beach. John Nobel would face an additional $300,000 penalty if caught doing so again, according to City Attorney Jan Goldsmith.

"This case underscores that landlords will be held accountable for renting to illegal marijuana dispensaries," Goldsmith said. "There is a process in place for legally zoned dispensaries and that process should be followed"

Goldsmith said Nobel and other defendants were named in a dozen cases against property owners and dispensary operators.