March 26 2011 12:00 AM

The zoning restrictions would result in de facto band, members say

Just so everyone's clear, the proposed medical-marijuana ordinance before the San Diego City Council on Monday is not supported by the San Diego Medical Marijuana Task Force, the city's official advisory body on the issue. In fact, four of the task force's leaders have now signed a letter urging the City Council to amend the ordinance in order to avoid what they're calling a "de facto ban" on medical-marijuana collectives in San Diego.

The authors of the letter include Thomas Jefferson School of Law Professor Alex Kreit, who served as the task force's chairperson; former Democratic candidate for county supervisor, Stephen Whitburn, who served as co-chair; Rev.  Wayne Riggs of Plymouth Congregational Church; and city planning guru Dave Potter.

I've pasted the letter below (hat tip to Eugene Davidovich of Americans for Safe Access), but here's the short of it.

* The ordinance severely restricts where a collective can locate, and will result in a "de facto ban." What few collectives will be allowed to operate won't be enough, the letter says, forcing medical-marijuana patients to turn to the black market.

* The letter urges the City Council to amend the ordinance by either "including additional allowable zones, reducing the distance and number of sensitive uses, establishing a variance process, or some combination of these options."

Full text of the letter follows. ---

Dear Councilmembers,
We had the privilege of serving on the City of San Diego's Medical Marijuana Task Force. As you know, the Task Force was comprised of eleven members of the community representing a wide range of views and backgrounds. Our group included a former police officer, a reverend, and a doctor, among others. During our many meetings, held over six months, we heard comments from a great many members of the public as well as San Diego Police Department Assistant Chief Cesar Solis and Captain Guy Swanger. We reviewed dozens of ordinances from other California cities and counties and members of our Task Force met with planning groups across the City.
Though the Task Force did not agree on every recommendation, we unanimously voted to approve a draft report of our land use and zoning recommendations as a package of recommendations for the City Council's consideration. In addition, our group agreed on the central principle that by closely regulating medical marijuana collectives and cooperatives, the City of San Diego can ensure that qualified patients have safe access to their lawfully recommended medicine and prevent against the dangers attendant to unregulated or otherwise illegitimate operators.
We deeply appreciate the opportunity to have advised the Council on this issue and all of your diligent efforts to bring a draft ordinance before you that would regulate medical marijuana collectives and cooperatives in the City. We also appreciate that the Council has incorporated many of our recommendations into the draft ordinance that will be before you at your March 28th, 2011 meeting.
We are concerned, however, that the ordinance as currently drafted may amount to a de-facto ban of medical marijuana collectives and cooperatives within the City of San Diego that could force thousands of our neighbors to turn to the black market to obtain medicine recommended by their physician. This is because the zoning and other location restrictions, such as prohibiting collectives and cooperatives from opening within 1,000 feet of a variety of sensitive uses, operating together leave only a small handful of locations within the city where a medical marijuana dispensary could open.
We do not believe that the members of the Land Use and Housing Committee members who voted on these additional location restrictions necessarily intended or foresaw this result. At the time of the LU&H committee's vote, maps to assess the practical impact of different zoning options were unavailable both to the committee members and the public. LU&H voted to adopt many of the Task Force's recommendations while adding a number of additional zoning and location restrictions.
While there may be a rationale for each of the additional restrictions adopted by LU&H in isolation, now that maps showing their effect have been released there is no doubt that, in combination, the location and zoning limits in the current ordinance will ban medical marijuana collectives and cooperatives in most—if not all—of San Diego. The current zoning and location limits are more restrictive than those placed on liquor stores, adult bookstores, and even strip clubs. They will prevent medical marijuana collectives from opening in the central neighborhoods of San Diego, neighborhoods with the greatest number of patients, and even in neighborhoods where residents and local planning groups strongly support permitting them.
Those who will be hurt most by the draft ordinance will be the sickest patients, including the elderly and the disabled, who cannot travel long distances for their medicine and are unable to undertake the time and labor intensive process of attempting to grow medical marijuana for themselves. Indeed, the California legislature adopted the Medical Marijuana Program Act in 2003, which makes medical marijuana collectives and cooperatives legal, in order to protect the rights of patients like these.
As you know, the Code Monitoring Team, the Community Planners Committee, and the Planning Commission have all weighed in on the draft ordinance. Each one of these groups has expressed concerns similar to the ones outlined above. The CMT recommended, among other things, that dispensaries be allowed to apply for a permit in all commercial zones, including those with residential uses. The CPC recommended that a variance process be incorporated into the draft ordinance to allow for dispensaries to be established in local communities that would like them. Though the Planning Commission recommended approval of the ordinance by a 3-2 vote, they also expressed concern that the allowable zones did not provide enough possible locations and requested that further analysis be done regarding the number of parcels and their locations that would be available under the ordinance before the issue is presented to Council.
In our view, despite its shortcomings, the draft ordinance provides a good foundation for regulating medical marijuana collectives and cooperatives in many respects. However, the sensitive use and zoning restrictions in combination would amount to a de facto ban on dispensaries by zoning them out of existence, forcing thousands of sick San Diegans including the elderly and veterans to procure medication lawfully prescribed to them by their physician from the black-market. We urge you to amend the draft ordinance—either by including additional allowable zones, reducing the distance and number of sensitive uses, establishing a variance process, or some combination of these options—in order to ensure that sick and dying San Diegans whose doctors recommend medical marijuana to them have safe access to that medicine, just as they would for any other medicine.
Alex Kreit
Medical Marijuana Task Force Chair
Dave Potter
Rev. A. Wayne Riggs
Stephen Whitburn
Medical Marijuana Task Force Vice-Chair


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