“One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.”—Plato
Woody Allen once said that 70 percent of success in life is showing up. So, give it up for the San Diego Police Department—at least it showed up last week for a Medical Marijuana Task Force meeting.
A skeptic might say, “Hey, Spin Cycle! You count a one-minute hi-and-goodbye as showing up? Wow, your standards are slipping.”
Yes, it was a quick, blink-and-you'd-miss-it moment Friday, but considering the silence from law enforcement on the topic of proper zoning laws for medical-marijuana outlets in San Diego before last week, it was, well, at least something.
With one meeting remaining to finalize land-use recommendations to the San Diego City Council, the task force has been forging ahead with little input from city leaders, most prominently Mayor Jerry Sanders and Police Chief William Lansdowne.
But last week, there was Assistant Police Chief Cesar Solis and Capt. Guy Swanger standing before the 11-member panel, introducing themselves.
“I understand maybe it looks like early next year we'll be coming down to do a presentation,” Solis told the panel, which is expected to tackle guidelines for law enforcement in dealing with medi-pot cooperatives and collectives beginning in early 2010. “But you don't have to wait till January. … Any way we can assist, provide any guidance, please don't hesitate to get a hold of either Capt. Swanger or myself.”
And with that, Solis and Swanger headed for the exit, presumably till the New Year.
Task force chairman Alex Kreit, an assistant professor at the Thomas Jefferson School of Law, told Spin Cycle after the meeting that the appearance was intended to be brief, since “it didn't sound like [the police] had any land-use / zoning-specific input to provide.”
But, Kreit added, “Chief Solis made it clear that he's excited about working with the task force in the future.”
The brief appearance didn't satisfy medi-pot advocates like Eugene Davidovich, a Gulf War veteran and medical-marijuana patient who was arrested earlier this year as part of a San Diego Police sting operation known as Operation Endless Summer (formerly Operation Green Rx).
“Not at all,” Davidovich said Tuesday in front of City Hall, where he and a half-dozen advocates staged a peaceful protest march—with a handful of police officers observing nearby—urging city leaders and District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis to get involved in the discussion. “Although it's nice to see that somebody from the police department showed up, the visit was uneventful, brief and uninvolved.
“Even if they had sat there to listen to what the community had to say, that would have been an improvement.”
As Spin Cycle reported earlier, Paul Cooper, counsel to Chief Lansdowne, said he had intended to attend last week's task-force meeting, but he was nowhere to be found. Attempts by Spin Cycle to contact him for an explanation of his absence went unanswered.
What Cooper would have seen, had he attended, was a task force that continues to try to do the heavy lifting in terms of slogging through the confusing legal maze that permeates the medical-marijuana debate.
And he would have seen former mayoral candidate Steve Francis testify about a poll conducted in October that found that only 9 percent of local adults contacted believed medi-pot outlets should be banned outright while 64 percent sided with a regulated system. (Francis paid for the poll on behalf of Keepcomingback.com, an addiction-related web site he and his wife, Gayle Francis, operate.)
Cooper and the police also could have picked up a copy of a draft city ordinance proposed by the Southern California chapter of NORML, a wide-ranging document that's likely to be discussed in coming weeks by local community planners. Leo Wilson, chairman of the city's Community Planners Committee (which voted narrowly last month to recommend banning medi-pot storefronts in the city), said he would bring the NORML proposal to the committee for discussion.
“It's a very good proposal,” Wilson told Spin Cycle this week.
If they had stuck around, police officials also would have heard from Don Duncan, the California director and co-founder of Americans for Safe Access, a nationwide medi-pot advocacy group, who noted that San Diego is now a focal point in the debate and urged task force members to recommend a permitting process that sets “good professional standards.”
What the task force seems to have settled on is a tiered system that would apply less restrictive zoning requirements on smaller collectives with fewer than 100 patient-members but stiffer land-use rules and more public deliberations on larger cooperatives.
Task force member Stephen Whitburn, a community planning group member from North Park and a former council candidate, opposed the tiered system because he said he feared that city planners—also absent from the discussion—would find a way to stop medi-pot outlets from operating.
Tougher requirements, he said, could lead to a point where “we're going to get nothing [approved]. I'm really concerned about that.”
His motion to allow collectives and cooperatives to establish themselves with little regulation within light industrial areas of the city that are 2,000 feet from residential areas failed when no one would second it.
The task force also agreed on signage standards for medi-pot outlets that discourage “drug culture” references, bans operations within 1,000 feet of schools or youth centers and prohibits dispensaries from clustering by requiring a 500-foot separation between medical-marijuana outlets.
The task force meets for the final time on zoning issues from 9 to 11 a.m. Friday, Nov. 6, on the 12th floor of City Hall, 202 C St.
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