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The Road To San Diego's First Legal Medical Marijuana Cooperative

INTERACTIVE VIDEO: A Medical Marijuana Cooperative's Long Road To Becoming Legal
The Road To San Diego's First Legal Medical Marijuana Cooperative
The San Diego Planning Commission upheld a land use permit for the city's first legal medical marijuana cooperative. But there's still one more step before it opens.

Purple Blackberry Kush. Grand Daddy Purple. Mr. Nice Guy.

These are the kinds of medical marijuana available for purchase from dispensaries in San Diego. Although you may see some locations selling strains like these in your neighborhood, there are no legally operating cooperatives in the city of San Diego. The first land use permit was upheld Thursday morning, but there is still one last step in the process: a public safety permit.

Take a walk through the detailed process from beginning to end to see how the city is evaluating each request to open a medical marijuana cooperative within city limits. At least 38 other applicants are seeking a permit. Only four cooperatives in each of San Diego's nine council districts will be approved.

A short video explains the definition of a cooperative.
Cooperatives in San Diego must be 1,000 feet from a "minor-oriented facility." This video briefly explains what that means.

Getting Started

Once an applicant locates a site to open a medical marijuana cooperative, it must obtain a conditional use permit, also known as a C.U.P. This type of land-use permit is required for dozens of other projects, including day care centers, liquor stores and museums, but cooperatives must adhere to a few extra rules.

Click to reveal more information about specific rules for cooperatives

Cooperatives must install security cameras and alarms and hire security guards. External signs for the facilities are limited to two colors and cannot contain graphics. These details must be included in the plans the applicant submits to the city's Development Services Department.

Cooperatives also face distance restrictions. They must be 1,000 feet away from certain places, including schools, parks and libraries.

Proving this, falls on the shoulders of each applicant, who must create a map and spreadsheet identifying the use of every facility within a 1,000-foot radius. Consultant Eugene Davidovich, whose company walks clients through the application process, said it can be a time-consuming process.

“You actually have to send someone on the ground, identify the businesses within a 1,000-foot area after you have identified a map of all the surrounding businesses and with a checklist, write down every businesses that is a tenant within every multi-use building around and identify that list in a spreadsheet and present it to the city," he said.

Review, Review, Review

After pulling dozens of standard documents together, the applicant submits the packet to the city's Development Services Department for initial review. A staff member checks to make sure all the needed documents are there and moves it to a second review. That's when another staff member confirms all the documents are filled out properly, which can take up to 30 days.

After these two initial checks, the application moves on to the real scrutiny.


To make sure the proposed project is in line with all of the city's rules, the application goes through four reviews: planning, engineering, transportation and environmental.

It's during this step where problems can arise. The applicant may interpret the rules one way, while the city understands them another way. This creates a back and forth with the city, and applicants often have to re-submit their application multiple times.

Click to reveal more information about problems that can arise

Edith Gutierrez, a project manager who oversees the city's medical marijuana permit process, explained what each reviewer is looking for.

“The planner is looking at the distance requirements, making sure it meets the zone," she said. "Engineering is looking for ADA compliance, accessibility, driveways. Environmental is looking for environmental impacts. And transportation that meets the parking requirements."

Each of the four reviews has its own complications.

Planning, for example, is checking that the facility would not be within 1,000 feet of certain locations, including minor-oriented facilities. But the term is open to interpretation. Dan Normandin, senior planner with the city of San diego who helped write the city's ordinance, said it refers to facilities primarily geared toward patrons under the age of 18.

"Chuck E. Cheese, Toys 'R' Us — those sorts of things where we had to sit down and really figure out who's really the majority of the people here," he said. "And Toys 'R' Us, maybe the answer is actually a lot of parents go there without their kids for fear of having to spend too much money when their children are with them."

Gutierrez said her department initially ruled some facilities like Chuck E. Cheese were minor-oriented facilities and therefore cooperatives must be 1,000 feet away. But in some cases, that decision was reversed because the minor-oriented facility was located in a shopping center. When the full facility was considered instead of the individual storefront, the city agreed it was not a minor-oriented facility.

Public Input

The project receives a recommendation from Development Services — approve or deny — and then goes on to a hearing officer.

The city hired one officer to focus only on conditional use permits for medical marijuana cooperatives. The officer holds a public meeting to review the city's suggestion and take public input before issuing a ruling.

Members of the public have 10 days to appeal the ruling. If that's the case, the matter then goes before the San Diego Planning Commission. The commission's decision cannot be appealed.

One Last Step

After receiving a C.U.P., cooperatives must receive a public safety permit. This requires all employees of the cooperative be fingerprinted and background checked. Once both permits are recorded, the applicant can move forward with opening his or her facility.