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Medical marijuana is growing up.

San Diego could pass Tuesday a new law regulating where and how dispensaries can operate in the city. Dispensaries today operate without permits, chancing that they won’t be caught by city code compliance.

But if the new ordinance becomes law, a group of medical marijuana advocates and would-be dispensary operators are trying to legitimize their industry by creating a self-regulating body.

Call it a Chamber of Commerce for medi-pot.

The group would liaison with law enforcement to weed out bad actors, they say. They could create a certification system to look at a business’s books and make sure the finances are coming from and going to the right places.

They’re calling themselves the Alliance for Responsible Medicinal Access, or ARMA. In addition to its eventual role as a professional licensing group, the group has already registered as a political action committee, as reported by the San Diego Reader, and hired lobbyist Rachel Laing.

“We know where activism got us,” said Eugene Davidovich, one of the principles in the group. “That’s why ARMA is here now.”

Photo by Sam Hodgson

The group supports the ordinance the Council’s set to consider, which limits where dispensaries can’t go — close to schools, or within a certain distance of homes — leaving limited opportunities for future locations, mostly in industrial areas. The Planning Commission recommended approving the measure, though the umbrella group for community groups recommended a no vote.

“Once an ordinance is in place, we have something to work with,” said Bob Riedel, also heading ARMA, and previous operator of the only legal dispensary in the county, in El Cajon. “Bad players will leave once there’s regulation. Until we have something in place, no one has any idea what a regulated industry looks like.”

Davidovich and Riedel have already begun fundraising for the June elections. They’ve raised $50,000 so far, they said, for their plan to spend $100,000 on behalf of sympathetic candidates in June’s primary elections. They say they’ll do the same come November.

In addition to Davidovich and Riedel, ARMA has a seven-member board of directors. It includes Heidi Whitman, a patient advocate; Heath Carr, a patient; political science professor Stephen McCamman; Greg Magdoff, whose company runs lab tests on medical marijuana products; Marcus Boyd, an insurance broker; Kimberly Sims, an attorney; and Will Senn, who works in digital marketing.

The activist model, they said, is to make demands and get pissed off.

They’re now ready to be something different: a self-regulating industry that law enforcement can see as a resource.

There are corrupt pharmacists who aid prescription drug abuse, they say. Abuse will happen. That’s why the industry needs a professional organization to work with.

Of course, engaging in the political process alone doesn’t make for a responsible organization; legitimacy can’t be secured simply by hiring a lobbyist and fundraising for political campaigns.

And Riedel and Davidovich know many will say they’re the same people looking for back-door legalization as the people they call bad actors.

“From both sides, people will say bad things about us, but we are the middle of the road,” Riedel said.

Correction: an earlier version of this story incorrectly identified the Alliance for Responsible Medicinal Access, and the college where Stephen McCamman teaches.

Andrew Keatts

I'm Andrew Keatts, a managing editor for projects and investigations at Voice of San Diego. Please contact me if you'd like at andrew.keatts@voiceofsandiego.org...

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