Photo of Todd Gloria by David Rolland
“The person who is waiting for something to turn up might start with their shirt sleeves.”
It may be a new year, but the Union-Tribune editorial board still seems married to old ways, at least when it comes to medical marijuana.
On Monday, the conservative daily published an editorial titled “Dispensing dope / First a moratorium, then wait for answers.” In it, the paper opined that—and Spin Cycle is paraphrasing here—1) the San Diego City Council's decision to set up the Medical Marijuana Task Force and task it with formulating medi-pot regulations was a stupid idea and 2) San Diego should bury its head until the political and judicial air clears.
“Lots of questions,” the editorial noted. “The City Council would be wise to simply enact a marijuana dispensary moratorium until it has better answers.”
Now, having never seen a single U-T editorial writer at any of the task force meetings—note to Chris Reed: the task force starts meeting again Jan. 21. Come on by!—Spin Cycle can forgive the errors of the editorial's way, including the misinformation that the task force recommended limiting membership in a medi-pot collective or cooperative to 100 patients. (It actually proposed a tiered system that would include tougher restrictions and more public input for proposed collectives with more than 100 members.)
Talk to medical-marijuana advocates, and they wonder aloud if District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, no fan of medi-pot dispensaries, wrote the editorial herself.
“Where the hell are patients supposed to go if they put a moratorium on dispensaries? Back underground?” asked Craig Beresh, director of NORML's Southern California chapter. “The U-T seems to be saying to patients, ‘You're sick, but we're not going to mess with it, and instead we're going to send you back to your local dope dealer and let that kind of crime start up again.' Is that what they want?”
The editorial clearly sprung from the bumpy conversation that occurred last week among City Council members when they weighed in on the raft of task-force recommendations cobbled together in the five weeks that the 11-member panel was given to meet late last year.
At the end of the meeting, it appeared that Councilmember Todd Gloria will have his work cut out for him when the recommendations come to his Land Use & Housing Committee in March. The reason? The other three members of his committee—Councilmembers Sherri Lightner, Tony Young and Kevin Faulconer—all expressed clear discomfort with the proposed regulations. For them, even the thought of “accepting” the task force's report seemed to cause political indigestion.
In an interview with Spin Cycle, Gloria said he'd have preferred if the task force had been given a year to do its work on all phases—land-use laws as well as guidelines for law enforcement and patient caregivers—but that certain council members wanted to “force the land-use question first.”
“I think all these pieces add up, all connect. But the task force was simply responding to the demands of the council members who wanted that,” Gloria said. “And it's true, some of those council members who demanded that now seem to be the more reluctant ones to engage in the question of land use.”
Gloria said he believes that once the City Attorney's office, police and city permitting staff weigh in—something that was hard to come by when the task force met the first time—“there may be a greater comfort level for a majority of the [LU&H] committee and maybe the full council to move forward.”
Even if the sky were filled with cotton-candy clouds and, as is the hope of U-T editorialists, some higher powers agree on a clearer regulatory process for medical-marijuana dispensing, both Gloria and colleague Donna Frye—who, along with Councilmember Marti Emerald, seem most at ease discussing the topic—insist that city leaders have an obligation as well.
“I want to give folks the regulations that they'll need to meet if they want the privilege of operating in the city,” Gloria said. “It's not meant to be so onerous that nobody can, but you also want to make sure that not just anyone can open up, right?”
Using a football analogy— who knew?—Frye agreed. “The idea here is not to trap-block people,” she said. “The idea is that we have a state law, and we need to legislate a way so people have clear guidelines on how they're going to be able to comply with the law. Last time I checked, charter cities are not exempt from state law.”
But if the U-T is endorsing a wait-and-see attitude at the expense of defining how San Diego wants to deal with dispensaries, well just kick that idea into the can, Frye said.
“I don't want the state handling local land-use decisions,” Frye explained. “I don't like it when the state has a one-size-fits-all approach to land-use planning. Much of this is related to zoning and making sure that people don't live near 15 liquor stores or 15 toxic dumps or 15 anything. If zoning makes sense, then it protects the public interest. That's our job!”
Alex Kreit, a local law professor and task force chairperson, has no illusions that the recommendations his panel sweated over will come out of council unaltered.
“I think that the task force has always envisioned these recommendations as providing a starting point and foundation for the City Council to use in drafting an ordinance,” Kreit told Spin Cycle in an e-mail. “So, I expect that the council will be considering changes and additions along the way.”
But Kreit also offered advice for medi-pot advocates: Stay engaged.
“I think it will be important for patients and other community members to remain closely involved as the process unfolds, to make sure that the final proposal will protect the rights of medical marijuana patients to have safe access to their lawfully recommended medication, just as patients who are prescribed other medications have to theirs.”
NORML's Beresh wouldn't have it any other way. “We are organized, and we are not going to give up,” he insisted. “And we're not going away, or sit and wait. Sorry, U-T.”
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