Pubdate: Fri, 25 Apr 2014
Source: San Diego Union Tribune (CA)
Copyright: 2014 Union-Tribune Publishing Co.
Note: Seldom prints LTEs from outside it's circulation area.
Author: David Garrick


Nearly 70 seeking to open medical marijuana dispensaries in S.D. line
up in early morning at City Hall to apply

Nearly 70 people seeking to open San Diego's first legal marijuana
dispensaries arrived at San Diego City Hall before dawn Thursday
morning hoping to get a leg up on competitors.

Looking tired and somewhat impatient like people lined up for
front-row rock concert tickets, the applicants managed to display
great camaraderie and civility as they waited inside a large
ground-floor lobby for city officials to begin processing their

The first dispensaries aren't expected to open for several months
because of a long and complex city approval process OK'd in February,
and city officials have stressed that being first in line Thursday
won't carry any advantage.

But some applicants began camping outside City Hall as early as Sunday
anyway, contending that even the slightest chance of pulling ahead of
others was worth the inconvenience.

"There's only a certain amount of properties that are available, and
if somebody ahead of us in line had a complete application, they would
be ahead of us in the process," said Michael Banki, who was first in
line along with his father, Mehrdad.

That competitive spirit has been fueled by the city's regulations,
which limit the number of legal medical marijuana dispensaries in each
of San Diego's nine City Council districts to four - capping the total
number that could possibly open at 36.

Lance Rogers, an attorney working with the Banki family and several
other applicants, said he advised all his clients to get as close to
the front of the line as possible.

"In an abundance of caution we're here to make sure if first in line
is first in time, that we're literally first in line," he said.

Worried the crowd might be raucous and possibly even violent, the
Police Department stationed seven officers and four patrol cars all
morning just outside the Development Services Department lobby near
First Avenue and B Street.

But Sgt. Ed Zwibel said the turbulence had been limited to a few minor
"personality conflicts" among applicants.

"They've been nothing but cordial," he said. "They're self-motivated,
self-monitoring and self-policing."

Zwibel said having additional law enforcement there was still the
right move because the city has never before ventured into legalizing
marijuana sales.

"Any new unknown has a potential for disagreements," he

Some applicants complained that city officials unexpectedly decided at
5 a.m. to relocate the waiting area from the second floor of
Development Services to the first floor, scattering the line that had
formed and stirring some minor controversy.

But the applicants all managed to reclaim their previous spots in line
after the commotion.

Edith Gutierrez, a development project manager for the city, said the
last-minute decision to relocate was not a calculated attempt to
disperse the line, as some applicants had suggested.

"We just decided it would be better to route everybody down here
because not many people use this entrance," Gutierrez said.
"Everything ran smoothly."

Numbers were doled out at 6:30 a.m. and the first wave of applicants
took elevators to the fourth floor at 7 o'clock to turn in dozens of
forms and submit checks for nearly $9,000 to get the multi-step
approval process rolling.

The applicants, who waited in a horseshoe-shaped line created by
crowd-control ropes, appeared to be a sort of microcosm of the city.

There were people of all ages and races, and the number of men and
women was roughly equal. Some were wearing suits and high-heel shoes,
while others had donned sweatshirts and sneakers.

Richard D'Aries, the 11th person in line, said he was paid to stand
there by an applicant who wanted to secure multiple spots near the
front. D'Aries said he connected with that applicant through an ad on

Joy Greenfield, 73, was fourth in line because she's determined to
reopen the dispensary she owned in the city's Midway District in 2011
before it was shut down.

City officials said more than 100 illegal dispensaries within San
Diego have been shut down in recent years.

There are still roughly 50 open, but city officials said each of those
will be closed as quickly as the legal system will allow.

Many applicants said they were pleased that after many years of
wrangling over the issue at City Hall that there finally will be a
legal way to operate a dispensary in San Diego.

Some said they struggled to find potential dispensary sites because
city regulations say they can't open within 100 feet of residential
property or 1,000 feet of schools, playgrounds, libraries, parks,
churches and facilities focused on youth activities.
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