City Council approves regulations for sale of recreational marijuana

Posted at 8:04 AM, Jan 31, 2017
and last updated 2017-02-01 07:35:06-05

SAN DIEGO - The City Council Tuesday unanimously approved regulations for recreational marijuana operations in San Diego in light of voter passage last November of state Proposition 64.

The city has a couple handfuls of medical marijuana dispensaries, which are expected to convert to selling the drug for recreational use.

The state measure, backed by San Diego voters by a wide margin, immediately legalized possession, transport, use and transfer of marijuana for people 21 years old or older. It also immediately allowed personal indoor and outdoor cultivation of up to six living marijuana plants at a private residence.

The new state law also provides municipalities with the authority to regulate marijuana-related activities and to subject such enterprises to zoning and permitting requirements, city officials said.

Land use regulations will be similar to the rules imposed on medical marijuana dispensaries, with some modifications and additions.

Recreational marijuana outlets would be permitted in the same zones, require a conditional use permit, and be required to maintain similar security requirements and separation distances from places like residences and schools.

There would also be no more than four such businesses allowed per City Council district.

"We're looking for clear direction, clear regulations so that we can abide by the rules," said Will Senn, who is opening a medical marijuana shop next week. "Right now, we're forced to basically allow for the inventory to appear magically, whereas we don't have a legal supply chain in the city of San Diego."

Those against pot shops, like Scott Chipman with San Diegans for Safe Neighborhoods, have said the city should enforce strict regulations.

"That's what we would like in San Diego. But the key thing is, we don't have enforcement. We don't really have medical protocols going on right now," said Chipman.

The main point of contention among the council members and public was over the supply chain, as city staff recommended a prohibition on cultivation, processing, testing, storage and distribution of marijuana and marijuana by-products.

"This ban would require us to purchase all wholesale product from outside the San Diego County region," said Phil Rath, who represents some of the legal dispensaries operating in the area. "Effectively it will be shipped long distance."

Between extra costs and taxes, the price differences between legal and illegal dispensaries would be "quite large" and lead to further proliferation of pot shops operating outside the law, Rath said.

Senn sadded, "The tax revenue will be lost if they limited the supply chain. It would be vast for the city of San Diego."

The council's action called for staff to continue reviewing the supply chain issues and return within nine months. The permitted dispensaries can continue with cultivation and distribution until those issues are resolved.

The council also modified a ban on outdoor residential cultivation to allow it in secured exterior structures, such as greenhouses. Growing, harvesting, drying or processing marijuana in an open place is not allowed.

Council members last week extended a moratorium on new recreational marijuana businesses from 45 days to a full year. The temporary ban was designed to give city officials time to develop applicable laws, and will be rescinded once the regulations take effect.

Various parts of the local law will take effect at different times because of needed reviews by outside agencies. Commercial licenses won't be issued by the state until next year.

District 3 Councilman Chris Ward issued this statement following the vote:

"Today's action begins the process of implementing Proposition 64 in San Diego using much of the same approach that has worked successfully to regulate medical marijuana facilities. More than 60% of San Diego voters -- including majorities in every council district -- sent a clear message on Election Day with their support of Prop 64, and I'm encouraged that the council is moving forward with a responsible plan that respects this mandate. Today represents a good first step, and I look forward to continued collaboration as we put together a comprehensive system that appropriately balances personal freedom and public safety."

However, Chipman did not agree, adding, "We think that there should be an imperative in the leadership of the city to give the most safe and the most public health conscious decision possible."