Pubdate: Thu, 19 Mar 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


First Legal Marijuana Dispensary Opens in S.D.

City-Permitted Store Sets Up in Otay Mesa Strip Mall; 3 More in Line

OTAY MESA - San Diego's first permitted medical marijuana dispensary 
opened relatively quietly Wednesday morning in an Otay Mesa strip 
mall near the international border.

There were no long lines or anything else conspicuous, just a few 
customers excited they can start buying pot from an authorized shop 
in San Diego for the first time since California voters approved the 
use of medical marijuana in 1996.

"There's another one around the corner, but this one, I guess, is the 
most legit in San Diego," said Gerard Bennett, who's been a regular 
customer elsewhere. "It's nice to know that these guys are regulated. 
With illegal dispensaries, the concern is getting busted right out in 
front when you're leaving."

Regulated city dispensaries must be nonprofits, allow their products 
to be tested, meet rigorous security requirements and adhere to 
strict zoning rules that include being at least 1,000 feet from 
schools and 100 feet from residential areas.

Supporters of medical marijuana say the regulation of dispensaries 
will accelerate the closure of an estimated 100 pot shops operating 
without permission across the county, with essentially no rules, 
while authorities try to shut them down.

San Diego joins nearly 50 other cities in California that offer a 
process to legitimize medical marijuana dispensaries, but it is the 
only city in this county to do so. The county government allowed a 
dispensary to open last summer in an unincorporated area outside El Cajon.

The city last week gave final approval to two more dispensaries, one 
in Kearny Mesa and one in San Ysidro. They're expected to open this spring.

A fourth dispensary in the Midway District just east of Point Loma is 
scheduled to receive final approval from the Planning Commission on Thursday.

The opening of the Otay shop on Wednesday was a major milestone for 
the city, said David Blair, the owner.

"Patients finally have a place to go for completely safe access," 
said Blair, an HIV-positive San Diego State business ethics lecturer 
who smokes pot daily to relieve his symptoms. "We're achieving a 
longtime goal."

Mike Arlotta, a customer, agreed that it was a big moment. He also 
expressed confidence the dispensary would be run well, noting it has 
surveillance cameras, a security guard and a metal detector.

"It seems like with the security they're putting into play, they're 
definitely doing it the right way," he said.

The dispensary, a 1,400-square-foot suite sandwiched between a car 
insurance office and a duty free shop, doesn't have any signage 
indicating what kind of business it is or that marijuana is available.

It simply has the shop's name, "A Green Alternative," written above a 
long row of glass windows surrounded by frames made of cream-colored, 
freshly painted wood.

Nearby businesses said they're unsure how the dispensary might affect 
the strip mall, which is at 2335 Roll Drive near state Route 905.

"We're treating it just like another business so far," said Hector 
Cisneros, manager of a nearby Subway restaurant. "It's something new 
for us, so we're not exactly sure how it's going to work out."

In addition to customers from San Diego, the Otay dispensary is 
expected to draw people from Chula Vista and National City, which 
don't allow dispensaries, because of its location.

Blair, who hasn't previously operated a dispensary, called Wednesday 
a "soft" opening geared toward people who follow the dispensary on 
social media, with a more formal grand opening scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Friday.

"Today we're trying to get the kinks out of our system," he said.

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.

Critics say the city has essentially legalized drug dealing by giving 
dispensaries permits to operate.

"These are still businesses selling an illicit drug for profit," said 
Scott Chipman of San Diegans for Safe Access.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom