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San Diego’s First Medical Marijuana Permit Faces Last Bureaucratic Hurdle

Photo caption: Early in the morning crowds cue up at San Diego's Development Services Depart...

Photo credit: Photo courtesy of Green Alternative Marijuana Collective

Early in the morning crowds cue up at San Diego's Development Services Department offices in order to apply for a medical marijuana dispensary permit on April 24, 2014.

The San Diego Planning Commission is expected this week to approve the conditional land use permit for what could be San Diego's first legal medical marijuana dispensary.

San Diego could have its first legal medical marijuana dispensary this week, but the pot pioneer and his opposition have fought at every step in the process.

The medical marijuana collective A Green Alternative is set to become San Diego’s first officially permitted medical pot shop, almost 20 years after voters passed Proposition 215, allowing for medical cannabis.

David Blair holds a doctorate in business, teaches business ethics at San Diego State University and is the chief executive officer of A Green Alternative.

“The people voted for this 18 years ago and we’re still arguing over it,” Blair said.

He remembers the scene last April at the Development Services Department as the city first began accepting applications for medical marijuana dispensary permits.

“Everybody ran down those stairs to get to the DSD (Development Services Department) doors before anybody else. It was crazy,” Blair said.

For A Green Alternative that was just the beginning of red tape and lawyers. The collective had to find a storefront that fit the regulations along with a landlord that would rent to a marijuana collective. Eventually Blair found one in Otay Mesa, right next to the border crossing.

A satellite image showing the location of the marijuana collective A Green Alternative. Their address is 2335 Roll Drive, San Diego.

Blair said he and his collective chose the location because “there were no schools, were no residents.” He said the closest residents are the inmates at Donovan State Prison.

A quick look at Google Maps shows the prison is a four-mile drive from the collective's Otay Mesa storefront, and about a five-mile drive from the nearest residents off of Ocean View Hills Parkway and state Route 905.

The last step was filing for a conditional land-use permit with the San Diego’s Planning Commission. Blair and his fellow board members submitted their application. Any opposition had 10 days to file an appeal. On the ninth day Barbara Gordon did, on behalf of San Diegans for Safe Neighborhoods.

Scott Chipman, chairman of San Diegans for Safe Neighborhoods, said his group fights drug use and sale in San Diego. Chipman said his group sees marijuana collectives as drug dealers.

“Our contention is you cannot regulate criminal activity,” Chipman said. “Criminal activity such as selling drugs can only have laws that are enforced against, and that’s what we need and that’s what we will need after these open with permits.”

In her appeal, Gordon alleges a litany of reasons why the pot shop shouldn’t open, ranging from its location having many family-run businesses, increased crime and alleging a connection to Mexican drug cartel border tunnels.

If Gordon's appeal is tossed out, Chipman said, San Diegans for Safe Neighborhoods will stay resolute.

“Our effort is not going to stop. Our effort is not going to stop even if a pot shop is permitted,” Chipman said. “Because our effort is to stop drug dealing in San Diego. Which is exactly what's going to happen at this establishment and any establishment if they get permitted.”

If A Green Alternative opens it will be in City Councilman David Alvarez’s district. Alvarez said the challengers to the collective are parroting an old argument.

“The opposition to any of these is the same opposition that there was when the council approved the ordinance,” Alvarez said. “It doesn’t sound any different than what was said by those who didn’t want to see us approve any ordinance.”

Bob Walder is a veteran fighter pilot, medical doctor, retired hospital administrator and is an investor in A Green Alternative. He is also its chief financial officer and medical director. He said the delay has cost the collective a lot of money.

“For us, I mean the delay has cost us hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Walder said. “So we’re still paying bills with everything. That’s coming from private investors who believe in what we’re doing.”

The collective’s lawyer, Lance Rogers, said when the collective goes before the Planning Commission there shouldn’t be conflict.

“I’m a litigator, I’m a trial attorney, that’s a fight. This is a presentation before the Planning Commission for what would otherwise be a routine conditional use permit for new development,” Rogers said. “This should not be an adversarial setting. This is not marijuana versus anti-marijuana. This is ‘approve this project.’”

Blair is optimistic the collective will be awarded the permit. But more red tape worries him.

“To be delayed any further or a ‘no’ vote, I think it would be hideous, absolutely hideous,” Blair said.

For Blair San Diego’s medical marijuana future hangs on this permit: “If we don’t win, no one is going to pass.”

Why go through all this?

Blair said his motivation is simple.

“We want to help people. And this is the finest way of helping people, because this has been such a tough process in this city for so many years,” Blair said.

San Diego’s Planning Commission will review A Green Alternative's conditional land use permit at 9 a.m. Thursday in San Diego City Council chambers.

If approved, A Green Alternative hopes to open by March 1.


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