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We searched for some clarity in city of San Diego marijuana policy in our report Wednesday. San Diego Police Chief William Lansdowne was clear yesterday.

He said he hasn’t found any legal marijuana distribution outlet in the city.

“We have not found one yet in San Diego that has been operating within guidelines of the attorney general,” Lansdowne said.

Lansdowne spoke at a press conference Thursday morning announcing the arrest of 31 people after city, county and federal agents raided 14 marijuana outfits — 11 in the city of San Diego — Wednesday. The raids followed a four-month undercover investigation predicated on state attorney general guidelines issued last year and referenced by Lansdowne.

The guidelines, San Diego District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis said, are clear: No for-profit enterprises. Only state-registered nonprofit collectives or cooperatives that cultivate their own marijuana for their own use. Members of collectives must be vetted. They can’t just walk in with a physician’s recommendation off the street and buy medical marijuana, as undercover police officers did. “Primary caregivers,” defined in the law as those that act consistently in the health, housing and safety of their patients, are the only ones other than patients that can cultivate marijuana. Store owners don’t fit that bill.

(As an aside, the guidelines state primary caregivers can receive compensation for their services, but only so far as it’s required to perform their duties. On this point, I should have been clearer in my story Wednesday. I said caregivers could “profit” and a better way to put it is the above description.)

A legal medical marijuana outlet in the city of San Diego can operate out of a storefront, Dumanis said, but it must abide by the attorney general guidelines. That means appropriate incorporation documents and tax and business licenses, cultivation from within the organization, a verified collective or cooperative membership structure and, most importantly, no profit from the sale of marijuana. This interpretation, of course, assumes the city eventually adopts medical marijuana zoning rules.

“Like most San Diegans, I have always supported the legitimate and legal use of medical marijuana,” Dumanis said. “But let me also be clear. Our investigation to date shows these so-called businesses are not legal. They appear to be run by drug dealers who see an opening in the market and a way to make a fast buck.”

The marijuana investigation is continuing, officials said Thursday. So the other 39 or 189 medical marijuana operators in the city, depending on what estimate you’re using, aren’t off the hook yet. Lansdowne estimated there were 40 to 50 marijuana outlets in San Diego.

As I see it, there are four separate issues of administrative or legal regulation that affect medical marijuana operators in San Diego.

  • Zoning. This issue addresses questions like: Where can medical marijuana outlets operate? Do they require security services? Are there any restrictions on hours of operation? A newly formed city of San Diego task force on medical marijuana is supposed to find an answer.
  • Business/Tax. Operators need city business tax certificates even if they’re nonprofit and selling medical marijuana within properly constituted collectives. The state Board of Equalization has ruled that medical marijuana operators must pay taxes on their sales. Also, collectives and cooperatives need to have the appropriate articles of incorporation.
  • Legal. These are addressed in the attorney general guidelines .
  • Supply. Collectives can grow their own marijuana legally and distribute it to their members legally. But here’s a big chicken-or-the-egg problem. How can the original source of marijuana, or a marijuana seed, be obtained legally?I asked Dumanis about supply after the press conference.

    “I think you point out a very good problem,” she said. “There’s no place that I know of where you can buy seeds. We start out on the wrong foot.”

    An interesting aside on this issue comes from a reader, who passed along a story about the city of Sebastopol considering regulation of medical marijuana nurseries.

The question I have after yesterday’s press conference is can anyone in the city San Diego obtain and use medical marijuana by entirely legal means?

The city is on record that all places where medical marijuana is sold are not in compliance with current zoning regulations. The police chief hasn’t found one distributor of medical marijuana that complies with the department’s interpretation of state attorney general guidelines. At its most extreme, those who have received a valid physician’s recommendation can’t smoke legal marijuana in their own homes because of the supply problem.

I asked Dumanis if there needs to be more regulation or clarification to help people understand the implementation of medical marijuana policy in the state. Here’s her reply:

Yes. There needs to be better regulation by some agency or proper authorities to determine that. To go through, do you have articles of incorporation? Do you have a business license? Are you paying taxes, whatever IRS requires whatever board of equalization requires? Do you have a membership group? Have you verified their membership? If you read (the state attorney general) guidelines, they are very clear.

Dumanis emphasized that law enforcement has to enforce the laws as written. She’ll change her tactics if the law changes. Does that mean that absent better or different regulation or laws, we’ll keep seeing raids in San Diego?

“That may be what’s required,” she said.

— LIAM DILLON

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