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Competing San Diego Med Pot Co-Op Applicants Cause Opening Delays

Photo caption: Jars full of medical marijuana are seen at Sunset Junction medical marijuana ...

Photo by Kevork Djansezian

Photo credit: Getty Images

Jars full of medical marijuana are seen at Sunset Junction medical marijuana dispensary on May 11, 2010 in Los Angeles, California.

Medical marijuana dispensaries often face opposition when they try to open, but in the city of San Diego, cooperative hopefuls are facing resistance from competitors in the industry.

Medical marijuana dispensaries often face opposition when they try to open, but in the city of San Diego, cooperative hopefuls are facing resistance from competitors in the industry.

On Tuesday, the San Diego City Council will hear two appeals against the environmental determinations for proposed medical pot facilities. At least one of them was filed by an applicant who is also seeking a permit to open a cooperative.

The permits are limited and are awarded on a first-come, first-served basis. San Diego Planning Commissioner Anthony Wagner said this creates intense competition, and applicants are trying to knock each other out of the running.

“I think that this particular industry is cannibalizing itself through every legal means possible in order to preserve their place in line, jump ahead of another competitor or to stop someone from being the first one in a particular location," Wagner said.

Tuesday’s meeting will be the third time the City Council has taken up environmental appeals against some medical marijuana facilities. The members have rejected all of them, which allows the applications to move forward but adds time to the approval process.

"It seems as if the process is plagued by who has the most money to spend, rather than who has the best project," Wagner said.

Eugene Davidovich, who leads the medical marijuana advocacy group Alliance for Responsible Medicinal Access, said the appeals are a tactic used by both fellow applicants and medical marijuana opponents.

“They are simply an attempt to delay the opening of licensed facilities for medical marijuana patients in San Diego,” said Davidovich, a business consultant who represents clients seeking a medical marijuana permit. Environmental appeals have been filed against four of them, while others haven't yet reached that stage in the process, he said.

The San Diego Union-Tribune has also previously reported on applicants' frustrations with a process that values how quickly an applicant submits his or her paperwork, rather than the quality of the proposed facility.

One of the environmental appeals to be heard Tuesday is brought by Dillon Schifrin, who is also seeking a permit to open a cooperative nearby.

Other times, it hasn’t been so clear who’s behind the appeals, which carry a $100 fee to file.

Mike Westlake, an assistant deputy director with the city’s Development Services Department — the office that approves the permits — pointed to a series of environmental appeals filed by Benjamin Zoback and heard by the City Council earlier this year.

“We later found out that Benjamin Zoback was coerced into appealing many of these, but he didn’t identify who coerced him,” Westlake said. “Whether it was an applicant or an opponent, or who, we don’t know. He would not tell us."

Wagner said he and his fellow colleagues on the Planning Commission have also grown frustrated with the current system, which functions according to rules approved by the City Council in early 2014.

“We’ve been grumbling or wanting to have the City Council create a better system or process or a check and balance than currently exists since — I guess since early February," he said.

Last week when the commission gave final approval to the city's fifth medical marijuana cooperative permit, Wagner said Planning Commissioner James Whalen proposed requesting that the City Council revisit the ordinance. Wagner said he doesn’t expect the council to take up such a controversial topic.

Still, Wagner said the city of San Diego is ahead of the curve when it comes to medical marijuana regulations.

“Because, guess what? In 2016, what happens when marijuana is legalized in the state of California?” he asked. “And a lot of these municipalities in San Diego County don’t have a process, a check-and-balance to the land-use development code in place to try to ensure overall public health and safety."

Currently, only one permitted medical marijuana cooperative is operating within city limits.

This video contains interactive options. Click on "What is a cooperative?" and "What is a minor-oriented facility?" pop-ups to view different sections of this video. After viewing the additional sections, you will be brought right back to where you left off in the main video.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the name of the organization that Eugene Davidovich represents.

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