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Roundtable: Where Are We With Medical Marijuana?

Roundtable: Where Are We With Medical Marijuana?
We're back to square one in the game of hopscotch that is the medical marijuana business in San Diego. Medical marijuana advocates didn't like the city's regulations, and they got enough signatures to put a measure on the ballot to challenge it at the polls. So now what??

We're back to square one in the game of hopscotch that is the medical marijuana business in San Diego. The city council did pass an ordinance to regulate pot dispensaries. But medical marijuana advocates didn't like it. And they got enough signatures to put a measure on the ballot to challenge it at the polls. The San Diego City Council didn't want to go there, and they backed down. So now what??

Guests: Michael Smolens, government and Politics editor, San Diego Union Tribune

Katie Orr, metro reporter, KPBS News


Matthew Hall, correspondent, San Diego Union Tribune

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This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

FUDGE: And I'm Tom if you mean. You're listening to the Roundtable on Midday Edition. My guests are Michael Smollens, government and politics editor if of the San Diego Union Tribune. Cary or, metro reporter for KPBS news, and Matthew Hall, correspondent for the San Diego Union Tribune. Before we wrap up our discussion of the debt ceiling, Michael, how would you like to respond to Lori SaldaÒa.

SMOLLENS: Lori knows her stuff. She's been up in the legislature for years, and that's what happened. It's the vulcanization of politics in Sacramento and Washington. In both places they are spending more money than they're taking in, which is an issue that a lot of people are uncomfortable with. Conservative, Democratic tea partier alike. One final note is that in both places, Washington and Sacramento, the kinds of dealing that were at least left on the table in Sacramento were things that Republicans never could have dreamed of getting before, pension reform, a spending limit that just didn't happen. Do they over extend and try to get the whole anyone yards? Similarly in Washington, the things they were talking about that the Democrats looked like they would agree to, were things unimaginable in past years. We'll have to see if those things still come forth. They're certainly pushing their leverage.

FUDGE: Tuesday is the deadline for Congress to come to an agreement right?

SMOLLENS: That's when they say we turn into pumpkins.


FUDGE: And we have human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together. Anyway, we're done. We're going to move onto medical marijuana. We're back to square†one in fact, in the game of hop scotch that is the medical marijuana business in San Diego. The City Council did pass an ordinance to regulate dispensaries, medical marijuana advocates didn't like it, and they got enough signatures on the ballot for a ballot measure to challenge it at the poles. The City Council didn't want to go there, and they packed down. Katie Orr? That's my first question for you.

ORR: Nobody seems to really know what now. Basically where we are, square†one. Meaning there are no regulations locally for these medical marijuana collectives when it comes to zoning. Technically all of these collectives, although someone argued they're not really collectives in the true sense of the word, so dispensaries -- all of these shops are not technically legal in San Diego. If a code officer went and tried to enforce the codes, the shop would have to shut down. It's sort of -- people refer to it as the wild west again. When it comes to medical marijuana dispensaries within the city. The advocates for these dispensaries were opposed to the ordinance passed by the council, but at least that ordinance gave some legitimacy to these dispensaries which they now don't want have.

ORR: That's true. And that's what people who certificated the ordinance would tell you. Medical marijuana advocates said that really the ordinance was a de facto ban on dispensaries within the city because it so drastically limited where they could set up shop. They were saying that it wasn't satisfactory at all, that the city in fact should have followed more closely the recommendations of the medical marijuana task force, which would have allowed for these dispensaries to locate in more commercial and industrial zones within the city. But the City Council instead limited the zones and cut down on the buffer area. The rule is you have to have 600†feet between a pot shop and a school or playground or church or different institutions.

FUDGE: They said if you add up all the churches and schools and playgrounds, it becomes difficult to find any place.

ORR: Right. They assumed there will be about five that would be able to operate within the city. And now there's about 100 and 60.

FUDGE: Listeners, if you have a view on medical marijuana, this is a very hot topic in San Diego, give us a call and let us know what you think. 1-888-895-5727. Going back to the political process, the City Council had a choice of saying we're going to stick with this plan that we have, and go to the ballot and see if the voters like it, and they decided not to do that. Why?


ORR: They all have thirds requirement different reasons for not supporting the ordinance in the first place. For instance, Todd Gloria thought it was too restrictive. Lorie Zapf thought it was not restrictive enough. A lot of it came down to money. It would have cost anywhere from $500,000 to a million dollars to add this item onto the ballot in June. And it's money the city doesn't have. We've just closed a million dollar budget did he have kit, we're looking at another one for next year. They don't want to spend the money on this. I did a story on this and looked at some of the ways the city have voted on this issue in the past, and in 1996 when the state was legalizing medical marijuana, the City of San Diego went along with that. And then this past fall when there was an option to legalize small amounts of marijuana for recreational use or personal use, the city followed the state again in rejecting that. So they seem to support medical uses, but not uses beyond that. I talked to a political scientist who said, really, it's one of those NIMBY things. They're all for having medical marijuana as long as they don't have to live next to a pot shop; which is where the push and pull which comes.

Q. . Some people feel their neighborhoods are being over run by these shops?

PENNER: Matthew Hall, what do you make of this debit?

HALL: I covered city hall for five years during the heyday or low point of the fiscal crisis, depending on what your point of view is. And it was rare that people came back looking to overturn a council action, having gathered signatures to do so. In the last year or two, you've had that happen quite a few times. But it really shows where San Diego and California is going. So much is on signature gathering to put something on the ballot or to ask someone to overturn something. I was fascinated by that and wondered how much the signature gatherers spent to get their issue to return to the council.

ORR: I really don't know how much they spent. I know they collected about 40,000 signatures. I don't know the numbers on that. I know the City Council recently passed an ordinance saying if a signature effort does make an issue back to the council like the Wal-Mart issue did, and the reason the council decided to overturn that ordinance was because they would have to have a special election for that. So now this ordinance allows them to, yes, the issue might go back to voters, but they don't have to pay for a special election. I think it's within a year you have to bring it back to the ballot.

FUDGE: We had the Wal-Mart situation which was similar to this, where the City Council wanted to create this somewhat of a hurdle for creating Wal-Mart super centers in San Diego, and Wal-Mart got enough signatures to put that on the ballot, and there also the City Council backed down and said, no, we don't want to spend the money. You win. Michael Smollens?

SMOLLENS: Two things, as Matt was talking about, these were two situations that were similar in that they collected signatures to force the council to repeal their ordinance. They were very different though. You had Wal-Mart, which is the biggest corporation in the world, and the biggest retailer, that was focused on this, and they made an argument credible to a lot of a lot of people to sign this, and the city would it be limiting their options. On the other side, it was organized and professionally done. You had all sorts of different groups that favor medical marijuana doing this. I don't want to say that it was just grass-roots versus corporate America. But it a degree, yes. And it shows how both sides to use this tool to put an issue back toward the council. The other thing that Katie had mentioned. One of the reasons in addition to the cost, people saw it as a loser and why not repeal it? Because there were people on both sides that hated it, and they figured would have voted against it, so they'd just be wasting a million dollars. Usually you feel good about a compromise that nobody likes. Well, this was a compromise that nobody liked and it department work outer.

FUDGE: We have callers on the line. Daniel, go ahead, you're on the show.

NEW SPEAKER: I ran for City Council in district three in 1999, and I ran against one of the medical marijuana advocates. Steve -- I'm forgetting his last name.

FUDGE: MacWilliams.

NEW SPEAKER: Thank you very much, Tom. And one of the biggest things was Steve and his friend were just looking to grow medical marijuana for himself and his friends. And it wasn't trying to be a big thing to make a whole bunch of money and sales and power. It was about helping people out. And I think that's where the issue has stepped away. It stepped away from helping out people with low cost medicine that you can grow for yourself and you can grow in your own backyard to help yourself, and maybe your friends, and a couple of associates. Of but it's just gone way beyond where we ever thought about it. And I'm not -- this is not the issue that I was fighting for to help my friend Steve. And also to help those who need medical marijuana.

FUDGE: Okay. Well, thanks very much. I think we're going to take another call. And we'll respond to your comments after we get both calls. Jack in national city. Go ahead. I guess we don't have jack. So let's respond to Daniel. Daniel brings up an interesting point that gets to something that was brought up in a justice department memo just last month when the justice department sent out a memo after having said two years ago that the federal government would look the other way at medical marijuana dispensaries if they had a state law that allowed them came out with a memo last month saying hang on, folks, these big pot operations in places like Oakland where they're creating thousands of plants that may be sold for millions of dollars, this is not what we had in mind. The federal government is turning around and saying we will prosecute you even if you claim to be doing medical marijuana. And I think this is maybe what our caller was talking about where he says it's fine if you're just growing it for a few friends, but if you're doing this as a big commercial operation it's against federal law. Any comment?


ORR: Well, it is against federal law. And that's something that I went into one of these shops for the story I was doing. And there was a sign there that let the monies know what to do if you are raided by law enforcement. Do everything they want, be calm, do not give them your name unless they and for it. Don't volunteer any information. So it's something that could really happen. I asked the city attorney if San Diego was violating any laws by not having regulations in place, and they said no. The state law that allows for medical marijuana is vague in that way in that it says people can get it, but it doesn't say how or what the city's obligations are to provide it.

FUDGE: And it does seem as though local governments have quite a few options.

ORR: The county of San Diego has effectively done that in its unincorporated areas. It has regulations, but they're so restrictive I heard it limits -- it's basically one spot. And it's allowed. There are no state guide lineup enforce what cities and counties should do about these dispensaries.

FUDGE: Let's go to Manuel, who I think is calling from El Centro. Are there?

NEW SPEAKER: Yes. How you doing?

FUDGE: Doing type. Go ahead.

NEW SPEAKER: The reason I'm calling is because we in the valley were about to get permits to open some dispensaries, the regulations they put in the valley was only a couple -- it's very limited to where the dispensaries are --

FUDGE: Well, Manuel, we seem to have lost. Thanks very much for calling. Let's take -- let's see. Let's take a call from Gerardo in San Diego. Can we get Gerardo from San Diego?


FUDGE: Go ahead.

NEW SPEAKER: Well, I would like to comment on some of the effect that I'm punishing from a positive effects from the medical marijuana trade. On the other side of the border in Mexico, there's been a lot of violence in the past years. But I think that this is a great relief to that. It's creating a healthy competition for illegal narco traffickers who have extremely high cost in crossing illegally, and this competition is really cutting their profits and really helping the violence.

FUDGE: Okay, well, Gerardo, thank you very much. Let's take one more call before we take a break. I think we do have jack in national city. Go ahead.

NEW SPEAKER: Yes, thanks for taking my call. I work for a local dispensary in San Diego. And I want to make two very important points. Number one, there's a lot of research and evidence that shows that marijuana is one of the least toxic substances on the planet. If a person takes a handful of aspirin, it can kill them. But you cannot take enough marijuana period to cause yourself serious harm. And the other point, I think legalization is really important on several different levels because when it is possible for companies to produce it with regulations and with high quality standards, you can verify that there are no additives, no molds, nothing like that. So people can assure they are getting no high quality medicine and nothing extra.

FUDGE: Let me and you a question. I have spoken with some people who are opposed to expanding or even allowing these dispensaries in the city. And what they're saying is when you go to these places what you see is a lot of young guys coming up there in cars. You don't see people in wheel chairs or crutches going in there to get their very important medicine. You see what appear to be young guys who want to get high. And I think this is a perception a lot of people have. What do you say to that? Are you giving marijuana to people who really need it or are they people who are saying oh, my back hurts? I have stress, therefore I need some marijuana.

NEW SPEAKER: It's really important for people to make that decision with thirds requirement doctors. And I've worked with delivery services before. And most of the people who are seriously handicapped, use delivery services. And there are a lot of people who work with delivery services. So the healthiest people are the ones who go the most often. And if the community has issues, it's important they approach the dispensaries themselves. A lot of times the dispensaries don't want to have any problems. And if they can work with the people to make sure that the community is accepting of them, I think it's very, very positive for that to happen.

FUDGE: Thanks very much, jack. We do need to take a break. You're listening to the midday Roundtable on KPBS. We're talking about medical marijuana in the city of San Diego. We'll wrap that up when we return. Then we'll talk about redevelopment projects that may fall by the wayside given a new state law. Stay with us.