San Diego City Council To Consider New Medical Marijuana Ordinance Today
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: After years of legal limbo the San Diego city Council is once again tackling the issue of regulations for medical marijuana dispensaries. A proposed ordinance for Mayor Bob Filner will be introduced to counsel today. It would impose restrictions on the locations of dispensaries and also impose fees and taxes. This is the first attempt to provide guidelines for medical marijuana outlets in the city of San Diego since 2011. Earlier today I spoke with the former chairman of the city of San Diego's tax force andThomas Jefferson school of Law professor Alex Kreit and Kenneth Cole, president of the United Patient's Alliance the trade association of medical cannabis distributors. Alex, tell us how the draft being introduced today differs from the one the city Council introduced two years ago. ALEX KREIT: I would say the primary differences are with respect to the locations that places can open up. The ordinance that was passed a couple years ago was incredibly restrictive as far as the zoning. Just the ways that the things passed out with the counsel I'm not sure this is necessarily what was originally intended with the zoning but it was an imprecise process and there are very few zones, few locations. They can open up, so this proposal has added a few more zones specified going through in detail the code I think the mayor's office and saying okay what specific zoning should be added back in. I think that's probably the primary difference. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And Alex is it one of the proposals your task force originally gave to the city Council? ALEX KREIT: Yeah our proposal recommended places below to apply for compliance in any industrial zone. This is not as broad as that but it's closer to what the task force recommended in that prior ordinance from a couple years ago. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Ken, you have come out in support with for the meters ordinance what does it offer medical marijuana dispensary owners and their patients? KEN COLE: I think what it primarily is trying to do is what Alex tried to originally and that is to provide access in a safe manner to as many people as require medication across the city and I think what happened previously is that it became prohibitive that it made incredibly difficult for people in serious need to be able to get to a dispensary so that is what we are primarily trying to do. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: What have patients done in the almost two years since both the city and federal government has been shutting down dispensaries? KEN COLE: Most of them in San Diego has probably come to me. As unfortunate as that may seem in a lot of circumstances because it is forcing people to come from some very long distances to try and obtain their medication legally. And, we have tried, we've got a lot more older patients now than we used to see before. I think a lot of that is purely and simply to make sure that the venue and the way you treat people is safe and respectful and that is what we've tried to do. There's a lot of people that are really hurting and a lot of people that simply have stopped, or dramatically cut back on medications that they need because there is nothing close by their home and they don't have any other way to get there and that's why we didn't feel we were in a position really unless we were being forced to close down permanently that we just couldn't close down because the phone calls and people standing outside of our business were just so sad. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Ken, why do you think your business, your dispensary has not been shut down? KEN COLE: I think we are complicated. I think it's a complicated situation. We are in a historic building with certain different rates but I think basically I like to believe that it's because we've tried to do everything right. I'd like to believe that we were really never jumped over because we did try to follow the guidelines that were laid down under the previous law. We try to follow through on everything that we read about state law and we try to follow what I thought the president of the United States and the Atty. Gen. Stated, that they would not prosecute people in states that had medical marijuana if they were following those state laws. We've tried desperately to do the only way we knew and that is not to deviate from anything. To try to make it as straight down the line as possible so that if trouble comes along we are in a position to defend ourselves. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now Alex, one of the positions in this draft ordinances that there should be enough dispenser is to allow some sort of competition, or at least some sort of various options for patients apparently different types, different strains of marijuana help different types of illnesses. I'm wondering what. Visions are in place in the new ordinance to prevent what high concentrations of medical marijuana outlets ALEX KREIT: There are a few I think the first and foremost is the permitting requirement which is that you cannot open up without going to the permitting process so even in the zones where they are allowable you have to go through the permitting process and that includes the opportunity for neighbors to come in and voice concerns if they have them. So I guarantee if you get some neighborhood where 20 places are applying for permits and certainly neighborhood and neighbors will come in and say this is way too much. The other thing is there are limitations on distances from dispensary to dispensary as well. But I think the primary one is just permitting, to let the community after say anytime someone wants to apply for a permit and open up I think that's the best safeguard to make sure that we have a situation where there is real access but also in a way that is not disruptful to neighborhoods. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Ken Cole, I want to take that question to you and take it one more step, there does remain staunch opposition to these dispensaries, much of it comes from neighborhoods that are concerned about things that are going to go on in the neighborhoods they talk about drug dealing and violence. What safeguards you think this ordinance we offer members of the community who are afraid not simply about people who are ill who need to get some marijuana to help with the symptoms of their illness, but rather what goes on or they are afraid will go on around the dispensaries. KEN COLE: I would say it is a fallacy. We have been here 2 ½ years in our particular site for example, and with literally had zero problems at all. We get along perfectly well with all of the local police in the area. I think well regulated dispensaries are going to cut back on problems in the area, not increase them. We tend to force the bad actors await. Where we are not in favor of children being, I don't believe anybody should put anything into their body that is not needed,. Period so we are certainly, I would speak at any school that wants me to about why they shouldn't be doing any of these things just illegally, but I think this fallacy about crime coming to the areas. I think it's a complete opposite. I think the bad people move away from our areas. There is no need to be around us. We provide something that I think is invaluable. The society at the moment is being buried under the costs of medical costs, medical care, prescription drugs and we can provide incredible relief from a substantial number of people that suffer from just things like nausea, cannot sleep well, they experience constant pain. There are so many things and I'm just tired to death of people telling me well I saw this person come to you store and they look just fine. Almost everybody that I deal with looks just fine and I would defy anybody to look at a person and say this person is ill or not and I know the pain that we see every single day. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Let me ask you, Alex, is there anything besides permitting that would perhaps relieve the fears of community members that there is going to be an increase in violence or drug dealing in their neighborhood if legal marijuana dispensaries are zoned for close to them? ALEX KREIT: Yeah there's all sorts of operational requirements that people are going to have to abide by, city oversight into what is going on as far as meeting the operational requirements. And I think that is the important thing is that really if you have a well-regulated dispensary where people have gone through the permitting process, where they are known to the community and they are abiding by the requirements that's where I think you cut out the problems. Where you see the problems is where there's no regulation and that is unfortunately what the city had for far too long and I think that's leading up to that vote a couple years ago things were out of control because anybody could open up anywhere without getting a permit and there were you get the fly-by-night operators were people out there for the wrong reasons but if you go through the trouble of getting a permit, opening yourself up to the community but you are going to be somebody I think who wants to do it the right way and will abide by the operational requirements to make sure those problems to arise. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Alex, what about the tax proposal suggested by the Mayor. He asked for 2% excise tax on all marijuana dispensary acquisitions from their dispensary members. Do you have an opinion on whether there would be legal? ALEX KREIT: I'm not a tax law expert so I will save that for the city attorney's office and others who are more well versed in textile and the intricacies of California's restrictions. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Did your task force purpose taxing medical marijuana? ALEX KREIT: We do not get into the issue of taxing because really we did mandate her task from the city Council was to root out by some on land zoning and operational requirements that we felt for something like taxes that is probably best deferred to the city Council itself since they had asked us for input on it. I will say that I think this is a reasonable tax proposal, you know, again I'm not a tax law expert so I do not know, I cannot speak to the arguments about whether this complies with California's tax restrictions on acting taxes, but I think it is a perfectly reasonable proposal. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Ken, what about, how would dispensary owners collect such a tax? KEN COLE: It is based, we can work with pretty much any regulations that are going to be brought in and I think what Alex is saying is 100% accurate. Those of us that are really serious we just want to see rules and regulations brought in that people can't live with. That are not overly restrictive. You know, I think we can be a respectful, vital part of any community. I think we can make a dramatic difference to a wide number of people's quality of life. I have no doubt that we will put thousands and thousands of people to work from the ground up with this industry and the revenue that should flow through would be enough in my opinion to us said anything that we are talking about it healthcare budget at the moment. I think that they could generate enough revenue through medical marijuana as well as cutting back huge amounts of costs in hospitalization, aged care facilities, veterans in particular which we feel horribly about the veterans and what they are suffering that come into the store is shattering to see what they're going through. Whatever the rules and regulations are I think this is a starting point that's what I feel. Maybe I'm not right but it seems to me that this is the starting point and this is hopefully the we the good people are going to get together and sit down and say how do we find to this to make sure people in this community are very happy with it. What do we need to get this better and better. But I think this is the starting point in my worry is if something doesn't happen relatively quickly we are going to have out-of-town organizations moving in here rapidly. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Let me talk a little bit more about the starting point. Maybe the starting point for San Diego, but, Alex, do you think adopting the guidelines of the draft proposal will do anything to influence the US attorney's office to stop its crackdown on medical marijuana facilities? ALEX KREIT: It's hard to say. I've honestly been mystified by the US attorney's office here in San Diego which seems to have taken almost a sort of gleeful leadership in trying to organize a crackdown on medical marijuana in San Diego and working with others across the state. I think that US attorneys office, I would hope would look and say okay if San Diego adopts clear guidelines and people are abiding by this, let's not interfere, but based on past experience I'm not sure if that will be the case. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: So this is the starting point for the city of San Diego but can again with the US attorney's office is that something you are looking over your shoulder all the time to see whether there will be a federal crackdown on your dispensary? KEN COLE: Yes, that's been a concern since the philosophy of the administration seems to have varied. We are getting all kinds of mixed messages now as to whether they will step in and you would think they've got enough problems in Colorado. We are hoping here, we live in San Diego and we've been here 14 or 15 years by choice and this is just a magnificent city. We don't want to do things to hurt San Diego. We want to do things to make it better and that's what we're trying to do and if we worry about our own backyard, I don't care about the mess they are making in other places, let's get it right here and perhaps establish a working model that city after city can say look what San Diego has done it can work, you can get this the right way. We are the right size city we've got a lot of good people that have been down this road before. Now is our chance to tidy it up once and for all and get moving positively that sets a standard and sets models. Like Alex is setting the standards we will ask people to stand up to are going to be pretty strong. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Alex, what is your sense of the chance that the new guidelines have eventually beenapproved by the Council? ALEX KREIT: I'm hopeful because I think at every turn the city Council has said and this is consistent with what I offered my experience on the task force talking to folks in San Diego that they believe in the principle of having strict regulations to protect the community but also to ensure safe access for patients. So I think there is most folks on the Council agree with the principle, they agree with the idea that we want to have an ordinance in place that allows for real access but also is very strict in its regulation. I think that that is what this proposal does. So I'm hopeful they will view it that way and see this as an opportunity to find a put what's been sort of a long ongoing process to rest here. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Speaking of process our city Council gets a look at the draft today. What's the process from that point on? ALEX KREIT: I think it depends on what exactly the city Council wants to do as far as if they want to refer this back to the city attorney to look at particular issues or if they want to refer a committee to look at certain things so I think we can not really say until we see how the meeting goes today but I'm helpful that whatever course they take, that things do move forward with this proposal. I think it is a good sort of livable compromise that would be helpful to the city, because if we don't get this resolved then I guarantee you will be back here and another two years and is an issue that's been ongoing so I think it would be a good thing for the city to get this once and for all regulated here. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I've been speaking with Thomas Jefferson school of Law professor Alex Kreit and Kenneth Cole, President of the United Patient's Alliance. Thank you both very much. ALEX KREIT: Thank you. KEN COLE: Thanks.
Proposed Medical Marijuana Ordinance
According to city documents, the goals of a new law would be:
— to allow patients with a proper physician's recommendation access to medical marijuana throughout San Diego;
— to allow limited competition in permissible zones so that patients can find the strain that alleviates their symptoms and improves the quality of their lives;
— to prevent dispensaries from encroaching on residential neighborhoods;
— to promote legal and responsible business practices among dispensary operators;
— to protect children; and
— to protect public safety.
After years in legal limbo, the San Diego City Council is once again tackling the issue of legal regulations for medical marijuana dispensaries.
This is the first attempt to provide guidelines for medical marijuana outlets in San Diego since 2011.
A pair of ordinances that determined where dispensaries would be located and how they would be operated were enacted in 2011, but medical marijuana advocates considered them too strict and collected enough petition signatures to get them rescinded.
In the absence of those ordinances, marijuana dispensaries became illegal, and the city closed down some 100 of them. The U.S. Attorney's Office also has been targeting marijuana outlets.
Returning dispensaries to legal status has been a major priority of Mayor Bob Filner since he took office in December.
In January, the mayor, City Council and City Attorney Jan Goldsmith agreed to continue enforcing zoning violations by medical marijuana dispensaries while an ordinance is developed.
In a memo last week, Goldsmith said the Neighborhood Code Compliance Department has not referred any cases to his office since the agreement was reached. During that time, at least 20 dispensaries have opened illegally, he said.
The documents said city staff is looking for direction on permit fees and whether to prohibit marijuana vending machines, among other things.
In a separate memo, Goldsmith said the City Council should consider postponing decisions on the topic since the state Supreme Court is scheduled to rule soon on a case that involves the power of municipalities to regulate dispensaries.