By James R. Riffel
City News Service
The San Diego City Council voted Monday to confine marijuana dispensaries to light industrial and commercial areas of the city, at least 600 feet from homes and other sensitive areas.
The new restrictions are incorporated in two ordinances — one on zoning restrictions and the other on public safety — that were approved by council members on 5-2 votes. Carl DeMaio and Lorie Zapf dissented, and David Alvarez was absent.
The regulations will end "15 years of uncertainty" since California's Compassionate Use Act became law, City Councilman Todd Gloria said.
The current environment has allowed marijuana dispensaries to flourish in San Diego without rules, pitting neighborhoods against patients seeking safe access to the drug, Gloria said.
Councilwoman Marti Emerald said the council's actions will protect "all concerned'' while creating "rules all sides can live with and can understand."
The votes came after four hours of public comment. Dispensary operators and marijuana patients complained the proposed regulations were too restrictive, and anti-substance abuse activists contended they do not go far enough.
Medical marijuana activist Eugene Davidovich said that by moving dispensaries toward outlying areas, the new regulations do not reflect what San Diegans want.
"Sick patients benefit from having collectives convenient and accessible," he said.
Gloria also called the proposed restrictions too restrictive.
The proposal initially considered by the council would have kept dispensaries 1,000 feet from schools, parks, churches, child care centers, libraries and other medical marijuana cooperatives, but an amendment by Gloria reduced the distance by 400 feet.
The City Council also eased the proposed process by which operators of collectives will have to apply for a conditional use permit.
The 165 dispensaries now operating in San Diego are considered by city officials to be illegal, but enforcement action against them has been sporadic. There will be no grace period for the operators to apply for their permits, leaving their legal status unchanged.
DeMaio said the Compassionate Use Act has been abused by recreational drug users. He said he could not support the regulations because their costs are undefined.
Zapf said she opposes the new regulations because the setbacks from sensitive areas are insufficient, and would have been even at 1,000 feet, and because too many of the possible locations allowed under the regulations are in her district.
The public safety regulation approved Monday night requires people responsible for operating cooperatives to undergo fingerprinting.
It also would allow the city to conduct background checks and audit the cooperatives' operations.
Any person convicted of a violent felony in the past seven years will not be allowed to operate a cooperative under the new ordinances, which also set packaging and labeling requirements for medical marijuana edible products.
The council asked the Mayor's Office to return in 30 days with a plan to implement the ordinances.