April 22 2014 12:00 AM

Prospective San Diego medical marijuana dispensary owners camp out for permits

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Entrance to San Diego's Development Services Department
Photo by Joshua Emerson Smith

About a dozen people milled around Tuesday across the concrete bridge connecting a multi-story parking structure to the city of San Diego's Development Services Department's third floor. It was an informal queue that almost everyone expects will grow in the run up to Thursday morning, when the city plans to issue its first-ever permits for operating medical-cannabis dispensaries. ---

"I'm going to have myself and my associates here holding a spot for me until Thursday morning," said Marco, who declined to give his last name. He said he'd been hanging around there since Sunday night.

With permits capped at 36 for the entire city, competition is heating up to secure approval for city-recognized dispensaries.

"First come, first serve, that's the whole thing," Marco said. "And the application process is very strict. They could refuse your application and you have to go to the end of the line."

After working with a consultant and a legal team, the 52-year-old recently bought a property in Mission Gorge that he thinks meets the city's strict guidelines for operating a medical-cannabis dispensary. The entire process, including the permit fees and the retails space, he estimated cost around $100,000.

"I've been waiting for this for five years," he said. "I used to have a collective four, five years ago, and the city shut us down."
There might be far fewer than 36. Under regulations adopted by the city earlier this year, there can be no more than four dispensaries in each of the city's nine council districts. But dispensaries also cannot be located within 1,000 feet of each other or other sensitive sites, such as parks, churches, playgrounds or schools. The businesses must be at least 100 feet away from residential zones.

That's why prospective dispensary owner Andrew, who also wouldn't give his last name, said his lawyer advised him to wait outside the city building. He's also found a location for his business, but if someone else gets a permit for a dispensary within 1,000 feet of that location or if he runs up against the cap, he'll be out of luck.   

"We found a shit-ton of spots in three days," said the 26-year-old. "But who knows if people are trying to get all four for one district."

Earlier this morning, several people said, police officers stopped by to discourage hanging out and reminded folks that overnight camping was prohibited.

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