In recent months, the city of San Diego received enough permit applications to almost quadruple the number of its active medical marijuana dispensaries. The city’s land development code, officials believed, was too unclear for it to handle that kind of increase.
Are medical marijuana dispensaries a retail sales issue? Pharmaceutical sales? A medical office use? A dental or health practitioner? These uses are allowed in just about all commercial and industrial zones as well as medium- and high-density residential zones. By contrast, the land development code requires outlets that sell alcohol to be 600 feet from schools, churches, parks and playgrounds and 100 feet from residentially zone properties.
The city wants to study where medical marijuana fits in with its current code or whether it needs to create new zoning restrictions. In the meantime, San Diego has stopped its permitting of medical marijuana dispensaries/collectives until it determines new zoning criteria or a recently recommended task force addresses the issue.
The suspension followed a July 21 memo from city Development Services Department Director Kelly Broughton to the city’s Public Safety & Neighborhood Services Committee, which told of the city’s dilemma and its response.
Eight dispensaries have active permits in San Diego, but there are now 30 permit applications for dispensaries in the pipeline. The spike in permits follows a court battle that saw San Diego County lose its attempt to ban marijuana patient identification cards. The San Diego has a reputation as a difficult place to grow and distribute pot for medicinal purposes.
A proposal to create an 11-member task force to study medical marijuana issues at the July 29 meeting of the Public Safety & Neighborhood Services Committee has muddled the permitting situation for the moment. The task force, which is awaiting City Council approval, will attempt to give the city a holistic approach to marijuana policy, but the immediate suspension of permits hasn’t been addressed.
Instead, there appears to be confusion about the status of permits. A San Diego 6 report on the July 29 Public Safety & Neighborhood Services Committee meeting attributes a statement to Councilman Todd Gloria that a medical marijuana moratorium isn’t likely to happen in San Diego any time soon.
Jay Goldstone, the city’s chief operating officer, said in an e-mail a permitting suspension is in effect.
The memo from Broughton reflects the position of the Mayor’s Office: that the city’s interest in state-sanctioned medical marijuana dispensaries is strictly in ensuring that appropriate land-use policies adopted and applied. Our neighborhoods, dispensary operators and law enforcement all will benefit from proper planning and clear rules as relates to dispensaries. At this time, it is possible that no existing zoning category is completely appropriate for this use.
Goldstone added that the Development Services Department recommended that the Public Safety Committee look to establish a new zoning use for marijuana dispensaries. Also, Goldstone said the scope of the new task force is “unknown.”
I called Gloria’s office for more information and it sent this statement to me:
At the PS&NS committee, Councilmember Gloria stated his desire to have stakeholders (the task force) weigh in on the issue of how collectives are structured and operated, including where they are sited. He commented that he was hesitant to bring the issue of appropriate land use designations/a potential permanent moratorium based on land use for collectives to the Land Use and Housing Committee he chairs until a task force was in place to advise on the issue. It’s important for the task force to be considered soon by the full City Council so they can get started on this work. All parties seem to agree that clarity would be helpful so patients can access medicinal marijuana as allowed by state law without hampering public safety.
As for the current suspension of approvals, it seems like you have your info on that from the Mayor’s Office and DSD.
I’m still looking for more information from Gloria so I will update when I receive it.
— LIAM DILLON
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