S.D. retreats from some parts of La Jolla proposed for expansion of where cannabis dispensaries can open

A proposal would allow nearly twice as many cannabis dispensaries in San Diego in an effort to boost equity in the industry.
(Associated Press)

Parts of Carmel Valley, Mission Beach and Old Town also are eliminated from the plan amid backlash.


Complaints and criticism have prompted San Diego officials to back away from parts of La Jolla and other neighborhoods in recent proposals to sharply expand where in the city dozens of new cannabis dispensaries can open.

Officials still propose nearly doubling the maximum number of dispensaries from 38 to 74. They also propose allowing them in many tourist and entertainment areas near mass transit where they are now prohibited.

The goal is giving people adversely affected by the war on drugs a chance to break into the industry. Because 35 of the city’s 38 existing dispensary permits have already been awarded, officials say a new cannabis equity program won’t work without expanding the number of dispensaries.

There are several eligibility criteria, but the primary requirement is that a person must have been convicted of a cannabis crime, or had a family member convicted of one, after 1993. Dispensaries were legalized in 2014.

The goal is to provide opportunities in the industry for people adversely affected by the war on drugs.

March 9, 2023

But many types of commercial zones in several areas of the city have been eliminated from a revised version of the proposal, including parts of La Jolla, Carmel Valley, Mission Beach and Old Town.

Ombretta Di Dio, city community engagement program coordinator, told the La Jolla Light that the original plan included La Jolla’s Zones 1-4, or nearly the entire Village.

The La Jolla areas now included, she said, are Zones 1A and 4 on the city’s zoning map — roughly the areas of Girard Avenue and Prospect Street and around Pearl Street between La Jolla Boulevard and Drury Lane.

La Jolla's Zones 1A and 4 — labeled on the map as LJPD-1A (top) and LJPD-4 (bottom)
La Jolla’s Zones 1A and 4 — labeled on the map as LJPD-1A (top) and LJPD-4 (bottom) — remain in a revised version of a proposal for where new cannabis dispensaries can open.
(City of San Diego)

Officials also have retreated from plans to allow the 36 new dispensaries to operate anywhere in the city. Instead, to ensure they are somewhat spread out, officials propose to create three zones and allow 12 in each zone.

The zones — north, central and southern — would be defined for the most part as areas north of Interstate 8, areas between I-8 and state Route 94 and areas south of the 94.

Lara Gates, who runs the city’s Cannabis Business Division, told the City Council’s land-use committee last week that the changes are in response to feedback from the local cannabis industry and an umbrella group of neighborhood leaders called the Community Planners Committee.

“We pared it down significantly,” she said. “We’re looking at taking out a lot of the commercial zones that had been previously proposed. We heard loud and clear.”

Gates said the proposal still would allow dispensaries in new areas like North Park and Hillcrest, but available locations in many neighborhoods have been scaled back.

“We took a hard look at La Jolla and we removed a number of zones there, as well as Mission Beach and Old Town,” she said.

The overall proposal, which is slowly working its way through the city’s lengthy approval process, faces additional hurdles.

Gates said it’s uncertain whether the new wave of dispensaries will be allowed near residential areas — particularly in mixed-use projects that combine retail, residential and office uses in one development.

Most of California’s largest cities have begun allowing dispensaries in some mixed-use areas, but San Diego Councilman Joe LaCava, whose District 1 includes La Jolla, said he won’t vote for any changes that allow dispensaries to open near housing.

There also have been delays in appointing a task force of community and industry leaders to determine who would be eligible for the equity program and whether they would be allowed to sell their dispensaries to new owners who don’t meet those criteria.

The task force, previously expected to begin meeting this spring, is now expected to begin meeting at the end of this year.

LaCava said the work of the task force is crucial.

“The qualifications of the applicant, as well as transferability, have to be in place before these land-use proposals are adopted and before we start the permitting process,” he said. “We have a responsibility as a council to make sure the total package really works at every level you can possibly think of.”

The other members of the land-use committee also expressed concerns. But Councilman Kent Lee said “this is a chance to help real people who have faced real harms in the past. There are very few opportunities we have as a city and a community to do that.”

— La Jolla Light staff writer Elisabeth Frausto contributed to this report.