San Diego City Council Agrees with Medical Cannabis Advocates: "No Ban, Just Regulations"

Published Wednesday, February 01, 2017

On Tuesday, January 31st, the San Diego City Council faced passionate pleas from dozens of cannabis business representatives, medical professionals, law enforcement and community members surrounding the fate of the cannabis industry in San Diego.

Though the council meeting centered on Proposition 64 – which passed last November to allow adults to possess, transport, use and transfer recreational use marijuana -- medical marijuana operations were also discussed.

A top point of contention included the city's ability and willingness to ensure the safety of all sold and distributed cannabis products.

"This is about safe access to medicine," one speaker, who said she uses edible cannabis to treat her cancer symptoms told the council. "This is why testing and safe access is so important. We need proper labeling and dosing, and when you create barriers to these things the only people that lose are the patients. Delivery services are important. Please, I urge you not to take any steps backward in allowing independent delivery services, dispensaries, testing, cultivation and/or cannabis manufacturing."

Ken Sobel, a cannabis advocate, lawyer and director of legal affairs representing Grow for Vets said his nonprofit organization gives "free cannabis to veterans who need it." He said he's proven in legal cases in Arizona that cannabis is especially helpful in treating veterans with PTSD.

"We need a broad-based, a free and progressive and open market here in San Diego, so that we can be the star in California," Sobel said. 

Ken Sobel, Director of Legal Affairs, Grow for VetsKen Sobel, Director of Legal Affairs, Grow for Vets

After public testimony, councilmembers shared their thoughts on the need for regulations.

"Passing an ordinance will also help us crack down on these illegal pop shops to sell," District 2 City Councilmember Lorie Zapf said.

Council President Myrtle Cole, District 4, said "I have always recognized that allowing access to marijuana use for medical reasons was the humane and right thing to do. Current land use regulations that allow for businesses to provide medical marijuana are reasonable and are working. I might not agree with allowing businesses to now sell marijuana for recreational use, however, I do recognize that citizens voted for it and it is now the law and I respect that. But I do not want us to wait until the state develops its regulations and licensing requirements and impose them on us. This could result in recreational marijuana businesses opening all over the city, and in particular, in my district, which I do not support."

San Diego Police Chief Shelly Zimmerman said she had concerns about the role of law enforcement as it relates to cannabis if it continues to go unregulated.

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"In San Diego, we have already experienced some of the negative side effects that both the legal and illegal marijuana businesses have brought. Our officers have responded to hundreds of complaints including those received from many of your council offices regarding crime and quality-of-life issues around these locations. We believe, [as] the police department, that the regulations in front of you today will help us, all of us, minimize the negative impacts of the marijuana industry in our neighborhoods."

Ultimately, the City Council decided to move forward with a vote for regulations – though, commercial licenses won’t be issued by California until next year.

Here's a quick rundown of the City Council's vote:

  • -With some modifications and additions, land use regulations regarding recreational marijuana would be similar to rules imposed on medical marijuana dispensaries.
  • -Recreational marijuana outlets would be permitted in the same zones, require a conditional use permit, and must maintain similar security requirements and separation distances from residences and schools.
  • -No more than four recreational marijuana businesses would be allowed in each City Council district.
  • Recreational cannabis users would have to maintain their cannabis in secured structures, such as greenhouses, if grown outside at a private residence.

Meanwhile, the council plans to meet about manufacturing and supply chain issues within the next nine months but will permit legal dispensaries to continue growing and distributing cannabis until the council makes related ordinance changes. You can view the entire recording of the meeting on the San Diego City Council Website.





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