Councilman Stephen Whitburn speaks a press conference on Feb. 7, 2022 about budget priorities for the San Diego City Council. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz
Councilman Stephen Whitburn speaks a press conference on Feb. 7, 2022 about budget priorities for the San Diego City Council. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

The Politics Report in the Voice of San Diego on Saturday omits context and includes a misquote and mischaracterizations to which I would like to call the attention of readers.

The article is about my work to update the city’s cannabis regulations. The article seeks to draw a connection between my work to update the regulations and my former chief of staff’s association with the cannabis industry.

The article omits the important context that I previously worked on these issues as the vice chair of the City of San Diego’s Medical Marijuana Task Force in 2009. The regulations I sought to update in 2021 were regulations I worked on in 2009, and my positions on those regulations in 2021 were consistent with my positions on those regulations in 2009. My work and policy positions on cannabis issues did not begin in my council office.

The article omits additional context that there was other work also underway to update the city’s cannabis regulations. Another council office was working to update regulations pertaining to taxes and fees related to the cannabis industry, and city staff were working on other elements of the regulatory environment. The recognition that the city’s cannabis regulations needed to be updated did not originate in my council office.

The article falsely states that a member of my staff pledged not to advance the proposed regulation changes to a city council committee. The article misquotes my staff member as saying to the Planning Commission:

“I don’t think you’re a rubber stamp. If you guys had an issue, we would just cancel the afternoon Land Use Committee ….”

That quotation is incomplete and inaccurate. What my staff member actually said was:

“I don’t think that you’re a rubber stamp. It just happened to be timing-wise on the same day. I reached out in September to Sabrina and tried to set up a date. We were aiming for a November date so that it could be heard at the December hearing of Land Use and Housing. November 14th and 18th were the two dates available. The 11th and the 25th were both holidays; you guys had pretty heavy days there. December 2nd you guys had a long meeting. The calendar she sent out had December 9th as no one being there at all at the time, so we thought it appropriate to go on that date to come before you. And my understanding is you weigh in here at the meeting and you make a motion and weigh in. So this information is going to go up to the Land Use Committee. If you guys had an issue, we would’ve just cancelled that afternoon Land Use Committee ….” (Planning Commission, December 9, 2021, at 2:08:56)

The article’s misquote falsely makes the staff member’s statement appear to be a forward-looking pledge. In fact, the accurate quote, in which the final sentence is in the past tense, describes how a hypothetical situation would have been handled if the item had been heard at an earlier Planning Commission meeting as originally planned.

The article falsely suggests that I hurried to hear the item at the December 9th Land Use and Housing Committee meeting because it would be my final meeting as committee chair as a result of the council president election held three days earlier on December 6. That is an invention. As described in the accurate quote from my staff member cited above, the Planning Commission secretary was informed in September about the goal to bring the item to the December meeting of the Land Use and Housing Committee. My office worked well in advance in an effort to bring this item to the Planning Commission before bringing it to the Land Use and Housing Committee, but it was the Planning Commission’s calendar that led to the two being scheduled on the same day.

The article further mischaracterizes the pace at which I thought these regulations should be updated. The article describes my work on these issues as an “urgent push” and a “furious push.” It says I was “anxious to get these changes done,” and it attributes to me “frustration” when the changes were postponed. These are false characterizations. I have never seen a need to rush these reforms, nor have I ever expressed a need to rush these reforms. In fact, when a Planning Commissioner directly asked my staff member if there was a “need for speed,” my staff member responded that the only need would be on the redistricting portion (since new council district boundaries taking effect within 30 days could put the city out of compliance with its own rule limiting the number of dispensaries to four per council district). (Planning Commission, December 9, 2021, at 2:12:19) There was no urgency to update the other regulations.

Furthermore, I was not frustrated when the changes were postponed, nor did I express frustration when the changes were postponed. I postponed working on the regulations because others expressed a desire to adopt a cannabis equity measure first, and I had no objection to that.     

I understand and accept scrutiny in the wake of the allegations surrounding my former chief of staff, whose resignation I asked for and accepted last spring. However, I believe readers deserve articles that include important relevant context and that are free of misquotations and mischaracterizations.

Stephen Whitburn is a San Diego City Councilman for District 3

Join the Conversation


  1. I appreciate Voice gave Whitburn space to reply. Quotes out of context are sometimes enemies of the truth.

  2. I think, Mr. Whitburn, that pointing out that you’ve been a puppet of the marijuana industry since BEFORE you were on Council…..and that their support is a big part of what got you there… hardly helping your case.

  3. Politics is war and like war the first casualty is truth. Whitburn was elected riding the back of a powerful Democratic Party machine with the wind to his back. Many of you are hypocritical Democrats, part of the imbalance at 202 C Street. Dan Smiechowski is a candidate for SD Mayor.

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