City Council considers draft law components making medical marijuana dispensaries legal in San Diego

SAN DIEGO - The City Council on Monday discussed the components of a draft law that would make medical marijuana dispensaries legal in San Diego again.

A pair of ordinances that determined where dispensaries would be located and how they would be operated were enacted in 2011, but medical marijuana advocates considered them too strict and collected enough petition signatures to get them rescinded.

In the absence of those ordinances, marijuana dispensaries became illegal, and the city closed down some 100 of them. The U.S. Attorney's Office also has been targeting marijuana outlets.

Returning dispensaries to legal status has been a major priority of Mayor Bob Filner since he took office in December.

In January, the mayor, City Council and City Attorney Jan Goldsmith agreed to continue enforcing zoning violations by medical marijuana dispensaries while an ordinance is developed.

In a memo this week, Goldsmith said the Neighborhood Code Compliance Department has not referred any cases to his office since the agreement was reached. During that time, at least 20 dispensaries have opened illegally, he said.

According to city documents, the goals of a new law would be:

-to allow patients with a proper physician's recommendation access to medical marijuana throughout San Diego;

-to allow limited competition in permissible zones so that patients can find the strain that alleviates their symptoms and improves the quality of their lives;

-to prevent dispensaries from encroaching on residential neighborhoods;

-to promote legal and responsible business practices among dispensary operators;

-to protect children; and

-to protect public safety.

The documents said city staff is looking for direction on permit fees and whether to prohibit marijuana vending machines, among other things.

However, the emotional argument about the distribution of medical marijuana was never far below the surface.

One woman opposed to the ordinance exclaimed, “I have family members ruined by marijuana."

She was countered by Rudy Reyes, who suffered terrible burns during the wildfires of 2003. 

“I'm local, I'm here, people like me exist," Reyes said. "We won't be charged by local laws because what we do is legal."

The idea of taxation is beginning to draw interest.

Leo Laurence, the founder of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, said, "Illegal marijuana operations in the state reap $16 billion annually and none of it is taxed."

Robert McNamara is not sure how that would work. 

"I think the proposed excise tax has too many variable factors at this point to be viable," he said.

The council directed city staff to craft an ordinance for a later vote, well aware of the conflicts between state and federal law over marijuana.

In a separate memo, Goldsmith said the City Council should consider postponing decisions on the topic since the state Supreme Court is scheduled to rule soon on a case that involves the power of municipalities to regulate dispensaries.

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