Pubdate: Sun, 25 Jan 2015
Source: San Diego Union Tribune (CA)
Copyright: 2015 Union-Tribune Publishing Co.
Note: Seldom prints LTEs from outside it's circulation area.
Author: David Garrick


No Other Cities in the Region Have Given OK to Dispensaries

SAN DIEGO - With every city in the county declining to allow medical 
marijuana dispensaries except San Diego, the city could become a sort 
of mecca for legal pot in the region.

 From Poway to Ocean-side to Imperial Beach and Santee, people 
seeking legal medical marijuana will have to rely on the roughly 30 
dispensaries expected to start opening in the city of San Diego this 
spring, or the one dispensary the county government allowed to open 
last summer near El Cajon.

That's because voters in six cities - Del Mar, Encinitas, Imperial 
Beach, La Mesa, Lemon Grove and Solana Beach - have rejected 
dispensary ballot measures since 2012. And the elected leaders in 
several other cities, including Chula Vista and Ocean-side, have 
voted to ban dispensaries.

Advocates for legal marijuana say the smaller cities are depriving 
sick people of convenient access to medicine they need.

"The unfounded fear of marijuana is causing people in convalescent 
care facilities and hospitals - people that really need it - not to 
be able to get it," said Marcus Boyd, vice chair of the San Diego 
chapter of Americans for Safe Access. "Trying to hide it from 
everybody is keeping it from the people who need it the most."

Opponents of legalized marijuana, however, applaud the county's other 
17 cities for refusing to budge, and they say San Diego is making a 
huge mistake by joining nearly 50 California cities that allow legal 

"It's too bad the city of San Diego didn't follow the lead of their 
companion cities all around them," said Scott Chipman, leader of San 
Diegans for Safe Neighborhoods. "Somehow, San Diego thinks it's 
smarter than everyone else."

Advocates say if other cities don't follow San Diego, there will be 
an increase in pollution and clogged roads, because people will be 
forced to frequently make long trips to San Diego for pot.

They also say suburban cities will struggle to eliminate illegal pot 
shops because the demand won't go away, prompting new illegal 
dispensaries to open every time one gets shut down.

One thing that could change the dynamics might be deliveries, which 
the dispensaries in San Diego will be allowed to make across city lines.

But advocates said delivery charges could sharply inflate prices, and 
they questioned how many San Diego dispensaries will be interested in 
delivering to faraway places like Vista or Julian.

Lance Rogers, legal counsel for the California Cannabis Industry 
Association, said he's optimistic that many of San Diego County's 
other cities will begin allowing legal dispensaries in coming years, 
because that's been a pattern across the state.

In every region of California, large cities such as Los Angeles and 
San Francisco have typically legalized dispensaries first, and many 
of their suburbs have then followed.

For example, Oakland began allowing legal dispensaries in 2004, and 
San Francisco followed suit in 2005. Since then, the Bay Area suburbs 
of San Mateo, Richmond and San Leandro have OK'd dispensaries.

"Once there is a track record in the larger cities, the surrounding 
smaller cities come online after that," said Rogers, adding that 
slowly increasing familiarity with marijuana and dispensaries could 
also help. "It was a foreign idea, but it's become a lot less foreign idea."

Jessica McElfresh, an attorney representing groups trying to open 
legal dispensaries in San Diego, said another reason to believe more 
local cities might allow dispensaries is the ballot measures in 
Encinitas and La Mesa last November.

While voters rejected proposals to allow dispensaries, they came 
closer to passing than four similar measures in 2012.

The La Mesa measure got 46 percent support, and the Encinitas one got 
44 percent, while in 2012 a measure in Solana Beach got 38 percent, 
one in Lemon Grove got 40 percent, one in Imperial Beach got 42 
percent, and one in Del Mar got 44 percent.

"It's particularly significant that the percentages shrunk, because 
2012 was a presidential election when higher turnout typically 
helps," McElfresh said. "That suggests we may be able to break 
through in 2016."

Michael Cindrich, executive director of San Diego's chapter of NORML, 
the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said his 
group is exploring additional ballot measures for 2016 and 
encouraging residents to pressure their elected leaders.

City councils in the county's two largest cities after San Diego - 
Chula Vista and Oceanside, will apparently need lots of convincing.

Chula Vista's council voted to ban dispensaries three years ago, 
citing concerns about crime, violence, increased use by minors and 
people without medical need gaining access to a drug that's still 
illegal under federal law.

Last June, Oceanside did the same, contending dispensaries would be a 
bad fit for the community and could lead to crime and more drug use 
by young people.

"I believe it's just not right for us," said Deputy Mayor Esther 
Sanchez. "It's just too easy to get a letter from a doctor saying 
that you can use marijuana for medical purposes."

After years of debate and controversy, San Diego went the other 
direction last winter and approved an ordinance allowing dispensaries 
but sharply limiting where they can open.

Four dispensaries are poised to receive final approvals from the San 
Diego Planning Commission this winter, with the first scheduled for 
Thursday. Thirty-four other applicants are further back in the 
approval pipeline, but the city ordinance sets a maximum of 36.

Another variable in the equation is the possibility Californians will 
vote in 2016 to legalize recreational marijuana, following the lead 
of Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom