Pubdate: Fri, 30 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


San Diego gave final approval on Thursday to the city's first legal 
marijuana dispensary, which will be run by an HIV-positive San Diego 
State University lecturer who smokes pot daily to relieve his symptoms.

It will be the first legal dispensary to operate in the city since 
California voters approved the use of medical marijuana in 1996. 
Located near the Otay Mesa international border, it's expected to 
open in early March.

San Diego joins nearly 50 other cities across the state that allow 
legal medical marijuana dispensaries, but it will be the only city in 
this county to allow them. The county government, however, allowed a 
dispensary to open last summer on the outskirts of El Cajon.

The Planning Commission unanimously approved the Otay Mesa dispensary 
on Thursday after nearly three hours of testimony. Three other legal 
dispensaries in San Diego are scheduled to receive their final 
approvals on March 12, one in Clairemont, one in San Ysidro and one 
in the Midway district near the Valley View Casino Center.

"We feel as though we hit the lottery being selected first," said 
David Blair, owner of the dispensary and a business ethics teacher.

Blair said his goal is helping sick people in the South Bay and other 
parts of San Diego use marijuana to control their pain like he has - 
and to improve the quality of their lives.

"I suffer from such pain and inflammation in my joints and muscles 
that the tears would flow out of me even after taking 600 milligrams 
of ibuprofen," said Blair, noting that he suffers from several other 
illnesses in addition to being HIV-positive. "With medical marijuana, 
I don't have any pain. I don't believe in miracles, but this is pretty close."

San Diego's legalization of marijuana sales follows a nationwide 
trend, with 23 states allowing the sale of medical marijuana and four 
others - Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska - allowing the sale 
of recreational pot.

Supporters of medical marijuana and the dispensary, A Green 
Alternative, said Thursday's approval was a major milestone.

Some also predicted the emergence of legal dispensaries, which must 
be nonprofits and allow their products to be tested, would accelerate 
the closure of an estimated 100 illegal pot shops that continue to 
operate across the county while authorities try to shut them down.

"We're creating a safer environment for the patients," said Dr. Bob 
Walder, Blair's partner and the dispensary's chief medical officer. 
"The requirements we have to test for mold and pesticides are finally 
now on the books to ensure people are getting high-quality medicine."

Critics of the dispensary said on Thursday that it's in a high-crime 
area and near businesses where many children go frequently, including 
multiple fast-food chains. They also said the dispensary will prompt 
excessive loitering and smoking of marijuana in the parking lot.

"Marijuana will permeate the adjacent businesses," Barbara Gordon said.

No merchants or landlords near the dispensary spoke during Thursday's hearing.

Planning Commissioner Anthony Wagner said the city's level of 
regulation was so aggressive that he was confident there would be no 
problems at the dispensary.

"You could go have your July 4 picnic in the parking lot and be quite 
safe," he said.

Edith Gutierrez, the city official overseeing medical marijuana 
approvals, said the dispensary satisfies all the requirements in a 
city ordinance approved last winter. Those include that it be at 
least 100 feet away from residential property and at least 1,000 feet 
from schools, playgrounds, libraries, parks, churches and facilities 
focused on youth activities.

Scott Chipman, leader of San Diegans for Safe Neighborhoods, said the 
dispensary should be rejected despite it satisfying the city's conditions.

"This is a bureaucratic checking of boxes," he said.

Supporters said Thursday, however, that the Otay Mesa site, a 
1,400-square-foot suite in a two-story building on Roll Drive, was 
ideally located in an industrial zone nearly five miles from the 
closest residential area.

In addition, they stressed that the dispensary will have 24-hour 
armed security even though the business will only be open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.

The landlord of the site, Michael Vogt, said "this is the right 
tenant at the right time in the right location."

Blair said the dispensary would be a model business.

"We know right from wrong," he said. "The reason we floated to the 
first position is every time the city requested something of us, we 
doubled it."

Walder said studies show there's no connection between dispensaries 
and a rise in nearby crime. He also downplayed claims that many 
doctors recklessly prescribe medical marijuana, contending the vast 
majority of doctors are ethical.

Blair, 59, and Walder, 62, are both newcomers to the medical 
marijuana industry; neither has ever operated a dispensary or worked 
at one, and Walder has never used his medical license to prescribe pot.

Blair said the location was chosen partly because he lives nearby in 
the Eastlake neighborhood of Chula Vista, and partly because there 
was expected to be little competition to open a city-approved 
dispensary in the South Bay.

A maximum of 36 dispensaries are allowed under city rules, with a cap 
of four in each of the nine City Council districts.

But the total is expected to be far lower, with most of the 38 
proposed dispensaries concentrated in the Midway area of District No. 
2 and the communities of Kearny Mesa and Mira Mesa in District No. 6.

Even without such competition in District 8, Blair said he and his 
partners have spent more than $200,000 on lawyers, consultants, city 
fees and roughly $27,000 they've paid in rent to secure the unopened 
dispensary location since last February.

Planning commissioners stressed on Thursday that their role was only 
to determine whether the proposed dispensary meets the city's 
land-use criteria and other regulations in the ordinance, not to 
decide whether marijuana should be legalized or whether the city 
ordinance should be amended.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom