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Regulating Medical Marijuana Dispensaries

Regulating Medical Marijuana Dispensaries

GLORIA PENNER (Host): Earlier this week, a City Council committee delayed voting on a number of recommendations for medical marijuana dispensaries in San Diego. The public safety and neighborhood services committee will discuss the recommendations again at a meeting in late May, after it hears feedback from the city attorney and the independent budget analyst. KPBS reporter Tom Fudge is here to give us an update on the recommendations that were discussed. So Tom, what were some of those key recommendations?

TOM FUDGE (KPBS Reporter): Well these were recommendations that they got from the medical marijuana task force, which has been working on this medical marijuana dispensary issue for quite a long time and there were a number of them. First of all the task force is recommended to the City Council and to the Public Safety Committee that the city collect a fee from these medical marijuana dispensaries for cost recovery. One has to assume that the city is going to have to spend some money regulating these places, so that was one thing they talked about. They talked about verifying, they recommend that city find a way to verify nonprofit status. According to the California attorney general, medial marijuana dispensaries need to be nonprofit. They’re not supposed to be making a lot of money on marijuana. So how do you do that, is one question that came up. They have recommended that the city pass an ordinance saying these dispensaries cannot employ people under the age of 18. So no employing minors. Also, and I find this one interesting, they have recommended that the city outlaw doctor consultations at medical marijuana dispensaries. In other words, lots of dispensaries today or a number of them actually have a physician on site where you can walk in and the doctor can say “Oh what’s your problem? Oh yeah you need medical marijuana. And here’s the medical marijuana.” And it sounds like the taskforce wants to make that illegal in San Diego.

PENNER: So, they’re actually, you know cleaning up the act. And all of this came from this taskforce?

FUDGE: The medical marijuana taskforce, yes. And it’s been meeting for, well I’m not sure how long, about a year. But, it includes people who are in law enforcement, people who have run marijuana dispensaries, and they’re trying to find a way to regulate these dispensaries and recommending ways to do it. Now they are building on the work that some other cities have done. Cities like Oakland, like San Francisco already have laws on the books to say this is how these dispensaries are going to be managed. And so, they can base some of San Diego’s law on that as well.

PENNER: Well you know these recommendations I have to say all sound pretty reasonable to me. So why do they decide to delay their vote on the recommendations?

FUDGE: Well they had some legal questions about a couple of things. First of all nonprofit status, how does a dispensary prove that it is a nonprofit? Medical marijuana dispensaries are not allowed to file as 501(c) (3)s under federal law. Because, under federal marijuana is a controlled substance, it’s an illegal drug, so they can’t be 501(c) (3)s. So how do you prove it? How do you prove you’re a nonprofit? Does the city have to do an audit of these places? So they sent that to the city attorney to ask, well how should we deal with this? Also, the business of not allowing dispensaries to employ people under the age of 18, is that even legal? To say to a business, you can’t employ 17- year-olds. Those were some of the questions they had and that’s why they didn’t make a decision on these recommendations.

PENNER: Well, it’s good that they’re bringing in the city attorney, I mean that’s why he’s here for, right?

FUDGE: That’s what I’m told, yeah. That's what he's there for.

PENNER: But the city's land use committee, a different committee, they did approve a different set of recommendations. So, what were those recommendations?

FUDGE: Yes they did. Well land use is, of course about how you use the city's land, and some of the questions that came up there were, how many medical marijuana dispensaries can you have in the City of San Diego? Where are they supposed to be located? What are they not supposed to be right next door to? And what they came up with, and the committee did approve these recommendations, is to say that these dispensaries cannot be located within 1,000 feet of a school, a park, or another marijuana dispensary. And that last thing that I find very interesting because in some parts of San Diego today you find some blocks where you’ll have dispensaries right next to each other and that will not be allowed if the city council adopts these recommendations.

PENNER: So finally Tom, just briefly so when is the full council expected to decide?

FUDGE: Well that’s a good question and I don’t know. But about a month and a half ago, I talked with the head of the neighborhood services committee that approved the land use stuff and he expects that we are going to have some kind of ordinance on how to manage these marijuana dispensaries by the summer. Don’t know what it’s going to say exactly.

PENNER: Something will be there.

FUDGE: But something will be there, that’s his expectation.