Pubdate: Sun, 18 Oct 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 - New state laws regulating medical marijuana will make San 
Diego County's 12 legally allowed dispensaries more legitimate, help 
increase the number of dispensaries in the region and make the 
products they sell safer, local marijuana advocates say.

New fees and taxes on dispensaries for state licenses and product 
testing could make medical marijuana more expensive locally, but 
advocates say that's not a certainty and that potentially higher 
prices may be a necessary byproduct of the industry gaining more acceptance.

Local marijuana opponents say the new regulations, signed into law 
last week by Gov. Jerry Brown, are relatively weak regarding health and safety.

They also expressed doubt that the state will effectively enforce the 
new rules, contending that could give customers a false sense of 
security and will leave San Diego's fledgling group of permitted 
dispensaries with the same quasi-legitimate reputation they have now.

The legislation, the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act, was 
supported by the League of California Cities because it writes into 
state law the power local jurisdictions have over dispensaries and cultivation.

Local jurisdictions have been able to allow or ban dispensaries and 
cultivation, and they will continue to have that discretion.

The law, however, gives reluctant jurisdictions new motivation to 
allow dispensaries and cultivation in the form of fees and taxes. In 
addition, state-regulated mandatory product testing could eliminate 
some concerns local cities have expressed about dispensaries and the 
quality of what they sell.

Jessica McElfresh, a San Diego medical marijuana attorney, said those 
changes could persuade additional local jurisdictions, especially 
large cities like Oceanside and Chula Vista, to join the city of San 
Diego and the county government in allowing dispensaries.

"The state has bent over backwards to encourage local jurisdictions 
to step into this," McElfresh said. "There's a lot of discretion in 
there for local governments to collect funds."

Lance Rogers, another local medical marijuana attorney, said the new 
law could also help increase the number of dispensaries within the 
city of San Diego, where strict zoning rules have led to only 11 of a 
maximum 36 dispensaries gaining city approval. Two of those 11 have 
opened, and the other nine are expected to open in coming months.

The new laws, by making medical marijuana a more legitimate business, 
could change the minds of previously reluctant landlords who control 
some of the scarce number of properties that meet the city's zoning 
restrictions, Rogers said.

"These statewide regulations are much clearer than what the city has 
- - they make it very clear that a dispensary is a retail location for 
the sale of cannabis," Rogers said. "When it comes to legitimacy, 
we're moving from the gray to the black and white."

Dr. David Blair, who opened the city's first legal dispensary last 
spring in Otay Mesa, said that's the most important element of the 
state legislation.

"These laws are long overdue," said Blair, contending the state 
should have created such comprehensive regulations shortly after 
California voters approved a 1996 ballot measure legalizing medical 
marijuana. "This helps the industry come out of the dark corners and 
into the sunlight."

Blair also expressed optimism, as many lawmakers in Sacramento have, 
that the new regulations would make California's marijuana industry 
less vulnerable to interference by the federal government, which has 
said it will leave approved dispensaries alone in states that 
properly regulate them.

The regulations also allow dispensaries to shift from being 
nonprofits to for-profit businesses, which some have cited as another 
reason to worry that marijuana prices will increase.

McElfresh said San Diego would have to similarly amend its 
regulations for this to happen locally. She also argued that there 
was nothing contradictory about people making money from providing 
medical marijuana to patients.

"There are for-profit hospitals and pharmacies and drug companies 
throughout this country," she said.

Eliminating the state's previous nonprofit requirement may also help 
clarify criminal cases brought against dispensaries, McElfresh said.

"In criminal court, one of the things we often end up debating is 
whether they were truly operating as a nonprofit," she said.

The main element of the legislation driving concerns about cost 
increases is a requirement that the state test all marijuana grown by 
cultivators before it can be sent to a dispensary for sale. The tests 
will determine the potency, the types of cannabis present and whether 
the marijuana contains mold or pesticides.

Adam Knopf, who opened San Diego's second legal dispensary two months 
ago in the Midway district, said higher costs should be taken in 
stride if they're the result of something as important as testing a 
product for quality and safety.

"It will add a little bit of cost to it, but it's the kind of thing 
that's needed," he said.

The new requirement for testing doesn't come close to satisfying 
local opponents of medical marijuana, who say the tests and the 
regulations themselves are much too weak.

"The primary evidence this is not real regulation is that the 
marijuana industry loves it," said Scott Chipman of the 
anti-marijuana group San Diegans for Safe Neighborhoods. "It 
institutionalizes in state law drug dealing for profit and creates an 
accompanying state bureaucracy."

Chipman said the testing is flawed, particularly when it comes to 
potency, because there is no limit to how strong the marijuana a 
dispensary sells can be.

"People will be very informed about how much they are being 
overdosed," he said.

Chipman also expressed concern that the state won't effectively 
enforce the regulations, contending that rules created 15 years ago 
by the state attorney general have gone almost entirely unenforced.

The new regulations allow the city to make some changes in its 
regulations, particularly regarding cultivation and allowing 
for-profit dispensaries. But a spokeswoman said city officials 
haven't had a chance to review the new law.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom