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San Diego City Council Passes Medical Marijuana Regulations

The City Council on Tuesday passed regulations for medical marijuana dispensaries in San Diego that will limit the establishments to no more than four per council district.

The 8-1 vote, with Councilman Mark Kersey dissenting, sets zoning and operating restrictions for collectives.

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Zoning and operating guidelines passed in 2011 were rescinded after medical marijuana advocates collected enough signatures to force council reconsideration.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 restrictions in the new plan are considered to be even tighter.

While the regulations will allow dispensaries to operate legally, supporters hope the restrictions will allow them to limit potential problems.

"We can't afford to turn our backs on this, otherwise there will be a continued proliferation of these illegal operations and, chances are, there will be further and greater abuses of the system," Councilwoman Marti Emerald said. "These drugs are going to wind up in the hands of kids and people who really don't need this for medicine."

She asked for a staff report in one year to make sure the collectives are abiding by the rules, while still allowing safe access for patients.


Operators of dispensaries will have to get a conditional use permit from the city, which will be good for five years, and an annual public safety permit from the San Diego Police Department. They will mostly be placed in industrial zones.

Also, collectives will not be allowed to operate within 1,000 feet of public parks, churches, child care centers, playgrounds, residential care facilities, schools and other dispensaries. There will also be a 100-foot buffer from residential zones and the dispensaries will be prohibited from having on-site medical professionals, to prevent dispensaries from becoming "one-stop shops."

The panel accepted an amendment from Councilwoman Lorie Zapf to establish the four-per-district cap.

Otherwise, large numbers of dispensaries would be allowed to concentrate in Kearny Mesa and Otay Mesa, but not in other areas.

The zoning scheme will keep collectives completely out of the district represented by Interim Mayor Todd Gloria, encompassing downtown, Hillcrest and North Park.

"I think having a cap is fair for all council districts," Zapf said. "It spreads (the impact) out."

Kersey said planning groups within his district voted to oppose the medical marijuana proposal. Councilman and former mayoral candidate David Alvarez voted for the regulations but lamented the restrictions on access.

The California Coastal Commission will have to approve the regulations for the area of San Diego near the shoreline. That could happen in around three months, according to city staff.