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San Diego City Council Approves Sorrento Valley Marijuana Dispensary

A former credit union branch in Sorrento Valley that has been approved for a cannabis dispensary is seen here, Jan. 8, 2018.
KPBS Staff
A former credit union branch in Sorrento Valley that has been approved for a cannabis dispensary is seen here, Jan. 8, 2018.
San Diego City Council Approves Sorrento Valley Marijuana Dispensary
San Diego City Council Approves Sorrento Valley Marijuana Dispensary GUESTS: Andrew Bowen, reporter, KPBS

>>> The city of San Diego is at the forefront of opening recreational marijuana dispensaries in California San Diego. San Diego manages more than a dozen stores to sell both medicinal and adult use recreational Cannabis. The debate is turning into a long process. The Council approved a permit permit for the dispensary in Sorrento Valley 18 months after application. Angie Bowen is KPBS metal reporter and he was at the meeting last night and will fill us in. Why did it take them so long to get the license? >> The process is very long. It involves a lot of very -- verification from city officials and verification that the site is compliant with line restrictions. It costs a lot of money. You have to pay development service department to make sure they can check all of the boxes. This particular project faced fairly unusual delays. One was that the city Council upheld an appeal of an environmental exemption. It is a routine process that happens with these things. Have a building that exist and switching it from one use or one type of business to another, it does not require a lot of environmental analysis. This one hit a snag. Environmental determination got appealed and -- upheld. There were unique snags and delays that affected this particular project. >>> That is Secour related? >> The California environmental quality act. >>> How many recreational marijuana stores are allowed in the city? >> This approval takes the number to 19. Not all of those business have been able to open up shops. Some of them have yet to obtain licenses from the state. You need not only a local permit but a license from the state Bureau of Canada skin -- cannabis control. Some of them have been mired down in legal disputes between the tenant of the business and the landlord. Others simply have to raise more capital to be able to hire the staff that they need to do any sort of interior improvements they have to do for their actual site. Last I checked, the number of businesses that are currently opened and operating in San Diego is 13 but the never could have changed. >>> The city Council allows for per districts, eight districts, so that is 36 doors? >> 36 doors are allowed on paper. That will not necessarily happen on -- in San Diego because some districts do not have the land use and zoning required for the businesses to operate. In San Diego, you have to be 1000 feet from a school, a church, a park, a minor oriented facility, and from another dispensary. You cannot have them clustered in one business Park. So it is likely that the city of San Diego under the current restrictions will not reach its full Of 36 dispensaries. >>> There is a lot of money to be made from these dispensaries. There is a lot of competition. Is that what caused the holdup? >> Yes. The appeal of the environmental determination I was talking about was filed by an employee of a rival dispensary a few blocks away from the site in Sorrento Valley. One dispensary might not want another competitor opening down the street. They will very likely use every legal means necessary to fight that. In this particular case, there were also other dispensaries that are applying for a conditional use permit to open up. They are behind the line. They are trying to compete for the limited number of permits available in this particular city Council district. This was one point that the land consultant Vicki Estrada made to the Council yesterday. >> There are Cannabis out last decile outlets behind us in line. There are only four per district. We have one to prove now. Meeting only three more will be allowed. If you are behind us in sequence, you will do your best to move yourself up in the process. >>> What are these competitors doing to move themselves up in the queue. >> There was an attorney from a competitor who was there who spoke in opposition to the project. Some legal grounds that I did not understand. The city staffers were not sympathetic and they dismissed those opposition arguments. There are also ways that they can try to utilize the community planning process to their advantage. Another permit, another applicant for a dispensary permit in this particular district, one the approval for the community planning group because according to the applicant for the project that was approved last night, that particular site is a little less visible. The one that was approved last night is on Sorrento Valley Road a very visible location. Those hidden, tucked away dispensaries might be easier for some projects get approval because they are less visible and ruffle fewer feathers. >>> Other cities like Oceanside might consider opening marijuana dispensaries. What are they learning do you think? >> I hope they are learning. Wanting you can learn is it is a difficult process and you have to be prepared for a lot of infighting and competition. The rules need to be very clear. In the past in San Diego, there was some arguments over what is a park. Is open space apart? Is a park only a place where families and community gather to go? The rules need to be very clear. I think that they should also be aware that if the restrictions are too tight, if it is too difficult to get a legal dispensary opened, that could create unintended consequences. You could have a thriving black market that will fill the void. You will also have things like price-fixing. If there are two few operators running the market. So there are some remarkable effects of restrictions that are too tight. >>> A lot going on behind the scenes. Andrew Burns KPBS metal reporter. Thank you. >> Thank you, Alison.

San Diego City Council members on Monday voted to permit a new cannabis dispensary in Sorrento Valley, bringing the total number of permitted outlets for legal marijuana in the city to 19.

The dispensary, which is backed by the marijuana business Outco based in unincorporated El Cajon, faced multiple delays over technicalities and zoning restrictions. It also attracted opposition from both anti-marijuana activists and rivals from within the marijuana industry who tend to benefit from limited competition.

The project's applicant, Belinda Smith, said after the vote that she was "ecstatic."

"Consumers do like choice, and they deserve choice," Smith said. "The more players that we have that are going to be compliant with the industry laws, the state laws, and the more choices we offer consumers, I think the healthier it is overall."

Councilwoman Lorie Zapf, who has emerged as one of the most anti-legalization voices on the council and who is up for re-election in November, cast the only "no" vote. Councilman Scott Sherman was absent.

RELATED: Marijuana Businesses Are Legal — But Darn Near Impossible To Open In San Diego

Opposition from the dispensary came from the volunteer neighborhood planning group and cannabis attorney Nathan Shaman, who represents another applicant seeking a dispensary permit in the same City Council district. City regulations allow only four dispensaries per district, and Monday's approval means only two permits remain in District 1, which includes La Jolla, Carmel Valley, University City and part of Sorrento Valley.

Vicki Estrada, the land use consultant on the Sorrento Valley project, suggested to council members that some of the opposition was based more on competition than on legitimate concerns over zoning or environmental law.

"There are some cannabis outlets behind us in line," Estrada said. "If you're behind us in sequence, you're going to do your best to try to move yourself up in the process."

Not all of the approved marijuana dispensaries in San Diego have managed to open up shop. Some have been mired in legal disputes while others are still fundraising, hiring staff or renovating their space. Smith said she expects to be open for business by September.

San Diego City Council Approves Sorrento Valley Marijuana Dispensary
San Diegans will soon have another retail outlet to purchase legal cannabis, after the city approved a new dispensary in Sorrento Valley. The project faced intense opposition from both anti-pot activists and rivals in the cannabis industry.

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