SAN DIEGO - A 45-day ban on medical marijuana dispensaries in unincorporated areas of San Diego County was approved Wednesday by a unanimous vote of the Board of Supervisors.
The 45-day window will give staff time to return to the board with recommendations for stricter regulations or consideration of a permanent ban. Wednesday's vote was 4-0 in favor of the temporary moratorium, with Supervisor Ron Roberts absent.
Dozens of speakers addressed the board for more than two hours before an overflow crowd of county residents, mostly from Ramona and Julian. Speakers in favor of a ban on dispensaries outnumbered opponents by about three-to-one.
"Kids are extremely impressionable," Lauren Logan, a teacher from Ramona, told the supervisors. "When they see a dispensary, they are going to think it's OK."
A petition containing 400 signatures from Julian residents in favor of a ban on dispensaries in their small, mountain community was presented to the board, as was a petition signed by 200 Ramona residents also in favor of a ban.
"Our hope is that the decision you make is for the noblest good of our community," Misty Dornan of Julian told the board. "Let us be brave and courageous. We want what is good, what is right, what is just for our community."
Other residents expressed concern over the increase in crime that is often associated with what they called "pot shops," increased traffic in their neighborhoods and the safety of their communities.
"I feel safe in Ramona. Fo not destroy Ramona, I'm begging you," Dianne Chapman said.
Those who spoke out against a ban on medical marijuana dispensaries were mostly from the industry, owners of dispensaries or others in the process of getting their marijuana business approved by the county.
"Keeping these operations out of the county increases the black market," Veronica Santarelli said. "The way to decrease the black market is to regulate these dispensaries."
One dispensary owner told the board that "we are providing a service to the community."
The city of San Diego is the only municipality in the county that allows medical marijuana dispensaries within city limits. The 17 other cities in the county have banned them.
"I'm opposed to the marijuana issue. I think Prop. 215 was misguided. These storefronts have become a problem," Supervisor Bill Horn said before the vote. "If you want marijuana, go to the City of San Diego."
Horn and Supervisor Dianne Jacob urged their colleagues on the board to join them in voting for a permanent ban, but Supervisors Greg Cox and Dave Roberts said they wanted to study the issue further.
"We've got to find the most effective ways of regulating these facilities," Roberts said. "It's going to take time to get this right."
Cox said he was sympathetic to the compassionate use of medical marijuana and that one dispensary in Ramona was not unreasonable, but the current situation has become a farce and medical marijuana should be handled by pharmacies "where it belongs."
Cox also called for a crackdown on illegal pot shops and said no community should have multiple legal dispensaries.
County staff will return to the board in a month and a half with options of making zoning laws more strict for legal marijuana dispensaries, increased penalties for violators, or how to implement a ban and how to phase out the county's two legally operating facilities in Ramona and unincorporated El Cajon.