Pubdate: Tue, 21 Jul 2009
Source: San Diego Union Tribune (CA)
Page: A1, Front Page
Copyright: 2009 Union-Tribune Publishing Co.
Note: Seldom prints LTEs from outside it's circulation area.
Author: Tanya Sierra, Union-Tribune Staff Writer
Cited: San Diego County Board of Supervisors
Cited: Americans for Safe Access
Referenced: The Attorney General's guidelines


Zoning Laws May Limit Dispensaries

The next front in San Diego County's battle over medical marijuana 
may be local zoning law as jurisdictions throughout the region begin 
to ban dispensaries.

But experts say the prohibitions might face constitutional questions 
or other issues.

"If a city would allow a drugstore to operate, but not a medical 
marijuana dispensary, someone could challenge that and say, 'What's 
the difference?'?" said San Diego land-use attorney Robin Munro.

The county fought a long legal battle over medical pot, which was 
allowed under state Proposition 215 in 1996 but banned by federal law.

In May, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to take up the case, and the 
county began to issue identification cards for medical use of the 
drug. Since then, applications to operate marijuana collectives have 
popped up across the county.

But the Board of Supervisors plans to ban dispensaries in 
unincorporated areas -- citing concerns about crime -- and several 
cities are traveling the same road.

Vista and San Marcos have banned businesses that distribute 
marijuana. Escondido and Oceanside implemented a 45-day moratorium, 
and National City will consider a moratorium today. Santee will 
consider a 45-day moratorium tomorrow.

Distributing medicinal marijuana is banned in El Cajon, La Mesa and 
Lemon Grove because it is not allowed under their zoning laws.

In Chula Vista, city officials recently rejected a business license 
for a collective without providing a written reason. The City Council 
plans to discuss a moratorium today.

Mayor Cheryl Cox said the city needs time to come up with a plan.

"This is certainly something that state law permits, but we don't 
have a policy," she said. "Not every city is going to permit the 
dispensation of medical marijuana, but it's up to the council to make 
that decision."

The issue will likely become a political discussion, Councilman Steve 
Castaneda said.

"For me, 10 years ago the voters of California passed an initiative 
that allows the dispensing of marijuana for medical purposes," he 
said. "I trust the voters."

Daniel Green, 25, and Dustin Vogel, 26, are trying to obtain a 
business license to open CV Cooperative, which would distribute 
medical marijuana. The city rejected their application verbally last 
month. The City Attorney's Office promised a formal rejection letter 
within three weeks.

When Green and Vogel applied for a business license, they had 
incorporated as a nonprofit, hired an attorney and leased office space.

"If they truly wanted to figure this out, they would have by now," 
Vogel said. "Instead, they tried to stop us. For a city that is 
hurting as much as they are to turn away a small business, even 
though we're a nonprofit, doesn't make sense. They will still get sales tax."

Dispensaries are allowed and abound in Los Angeles, Oakland and San Francisco.

"In state law, it's legal to open a medical marijuana dispensary," 
said Alex Kreit, a professor at the Thomas Jefferson School of Law. 
"But local cities have the right to say what types of businesses 
operate within their confines."

Cities would be better off allowing the dispensaries and regulating 
them, Kreit said.

"In some ways, this could be a legal issue that bubbles up," he said. 
"But on the other hand, cities may see the best way to deal with this 
is through regulation."

Kris Hermes, spokesman for the Americans for Safe Access in Oakland, agreed.

"It's up to local officials to debate and adopt regulations," she said.

Many cities have banned dispensaries.

The League of California Cities has not issued guidelines for its 
members nor has it been approached for advice, spokeswoman Eva 
Spiegel said. State law is vague about how patients may access or 
transport the drug.

The only guidelines available were issued by the state Attorney 
General's Office last year. San Diego County has not adopted those rules.

There are about 20 dispensaries operating in San Diego, according to 
Web sites that list collectives. At least two other South County 
cooperatives are in the process of forming -- one in Eastlake and 
South Bay Organic Co-Op in Imperial Beach.

In Chula Vista, Green and Vogel say their cooperative is ready to 
open once it gets approval.

"We're trying to make this place very Zen," Green said. "We're going 
to have one-on-one consultations. Our top priority is to be as 
legally legitimate as possible."

Two months ago, they leased an office across from Sharp Chula Vista 
Hospital. Since they are not operating their cooperative, they are 
losing money on the lease, Vogel said.

Both partners are medical marijuana patients. Vogel, a former 
Eastlake High School English teacher, said he suffers from insomnia. 
Green uses medical marijuana for migraines.

"We're not trying to be 'Scarface,'?" Green said. "We're going to be 
making teachers' salaries. Any excess (money) will go to charity."



Background: Voters approved the use and sale of marijuana for 
legitimate medicinal purposes under Proposition 215 in 1996. San 
Diego County challenged a state law requiring issuance of 
identification cards to patients.

What's changing: The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear the 
county's case, and medical marijuana dispensaries are seeking 
approval to set up shop across the county.

The future: Some cities -- and the county -- are trying to ban 
dispensaries because of concerns about crime and safety. They might 
run into constitutional issues.


"It's up to local officials to debate and adopt regulations."

KRIS HERMES, spokesman for the Americans for Safe Access in Oakland
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake