Last night, Wednesday March 16th, the Ocean Beach Planning Board voted against the current proposed ordinance on Medical Marijuana dispensaries. By a vote of 6 to 1, the Board in a Special Meeting voted against the measure because of its overly stringent restrictions. They in essence agreed with critics of the ordinance, some of whom assert that the measure would effectively ban all dispensaries in OB and throughout most of San Diego. The ordinance is expected to go before the full San Diego City Council on March 28th.
In front of nearly a full-house at the OB Rec Center, the Board listened to close to a dozen speakers – all but one spoke out against the ordinance -, and then offered their own opinions before the vote. Medical marijuana activists and local residents filled the meeting room, and applauded those speaking out against the measure.
The round of public comments began with OBcian Dave Martin, who addressed the Board as a member of the original Medical Marijuana Task Force. Martin supported the original recommendations of that Task Force, which only included 500 foot distances from a dispensary to various institutions, such as schools. He felt the new proposal was more stringent, as it requires a 1,000 foot distance.
Vice-chair Landry Watson clarified that the Alcohol Beverage Control agency only requires 100 to 500 foot distances for liquor stores. At the 500 foot range, the burden of proof is on the community to show that the applicant for a liquor store is improper, whereas within the 100 foot range, the burden of proof is on the applicant, Watson explained.
Martin reitereated that churches and parks were not included in the original Task Force recommendations, but they were added into the new proposal going before the City Council. The Task Force has since been disbanded, and never did meet to discuss the new proposal, he said.
Next, people from the audience spoke out. Vivian McCardle spoke of the need for safe access to dispensaries for those who have medical problems. Eugene Davidovich, representing Americans for Safe Access and the Stop the Ban group, said the proposed ordinance is an effective ban on such dispensaries, asserting that it would close one hundred San Diegan businesses. He added that state law only requires a 600 foot range.
When it was my turn to speak, I offered only two points: as a lawyer I stated that I believe that the ordinance is illegal and will be challenged in court, that the City will spend our money defending a losing battle to defend it if it becomes official. And secondly, I said, the Board is the voice of Ocean Beach and that it needed to represent and reflect the community, adding that during last fall’s election, precincts in OB had some of the highest vote percentages in favor of Prop 19 – the legalization measure.
A couple of other speakers cited that the ordinance did not address deliveries. One local resident, Barry Sweet, told the Board that he was a medical marijuana patient and member of the Task Force, and that without cannabis he would have died ten years ago. Sweet said that the City Council had been unduly pressured to drop the original Task Force recommendations, and that the City needed to get back to the original measure. He said he believed the current proposal was “an abomination,” and that if passed, the ordinance would force out everyone except those “big guys” with the ability to raise $400,000 to start up a dispensary.
Glen Franks spoke next. He represented Second Chances, a homeless advocacy group, and listed a number of reasons they were in favor of the ordinance: “it’s called dope for a reason,” he said, “drugs make a punk out of a hero,” and that “you can’t negotiate with terrorists,” meaning that drug addicts commit crimes to further their habits.
Mrs. Sweet – the spouse of the patient spoke. She told the Board that she is an educator in San Diego schools and a Girl School leader. She emphasized that we needed to separate out medical marijuana from drug abuse per se, that alcohol is sold on every main street in the community, and that she and her Girl Scouts while selling cookies in front of Rite-Aid, watched more beer coming out of the store than they sold cookies. “Alcohol kills more people than marijuana,” she said.
One young speaker cried while getting out the points that school kids are falsely educated about marijuana, and that it is not a dangerous substance. Others spoke against the measure, including our own Dan Morales.
Finally, it came time for the Board members themselves to offer their thoughts and opinions. Seth Connolly cited how easy it was to obtain medical marijuana documents, that there is definitely a “black market” in the drug, and there was a need for regulation. He agreed with my point that the ordinance if passed would end up in a courtroom, and he did not support the present measure. He did agree with adding a Process Four procedure to the original Task Force recommendation. A Process Four would require applicants to come before the Planning Board.
Board member Scott Therkalsen said he was strongly against the ordinance, that OB precincts voted heavily for legalization, and that “it’s pretty clear,” he added, “that the City is attempting to zone it out.” Let’s go back to the original Task Force recommendations, he said. Therkalsen was the member who had originally asked that the Board hold a special meeting on the proposed ordinance.
Craig Klein came next. He offered – in defending the ordinance – that the state statute passed in 1996 only talked about non-profits, and that it did not speak about “storefronts”. Many current dispensaries, he said, are making lots of money. The only thing he wanted to add to the current measure was to expand the types of locations where dispensaries could operate. “One per zip code,” he said.
Landry Watson said he supported the original Task Force recommendations, but wanted a Process Four on any measure to regulate dispensaries. The current proposal, he said “is too stringent, not a ban,” and recommended the Board vote “no.”
Brittany Taylor, past chair, reconfirmed her support for the Task Force recommendations, and also wanted a Process Four added.
Jane Gawronski was next, and said, “We did support the Medical Marijuana Task Force,” and like other members, wanted the Process Four added.
Chair Giovanni Ingolia was last. He asked the obvious and needed question, “Why create a Task Force and then not use their recommendations? I don’t support this at all.”
It was also then clarified that a Process 4 would require applicants to come before the Board for their approval, whereas a Process 5 would take applicants directly to the City Council.
The Board then took a few moments in figuring out their motion. It finally was formulated as a vote for the original Task Force recommendations, with the addition of requiring a Process Four, not to allow on-site consults, and that deliveries be in accordance with State law.
This motion passed 6 to 1, with all but Klein in favor. The Board in this vote, clearly made their stand against the proposed ordinance because it was too restrictive, and not in line with the original Task Force proposals. As this was the only agenda item for the Special Meeting, it was over. Just before people started to file out, Community Relations Officer Dave Surwilo thanked the crowd for being mature, democratic, and not putting down the lone speaker who was against the tenor of the audience. He also received a round of applause.
The Planning Board’s vote will be forwarded to the City and Councilmember Faulconer’s office. Hopefully, the full Council will see the writing on the wall clearly outlined for them by the OB Planners, and reject this current ordinance.