by Christopher Cadelago / SignOnSanDiego / Oct 14, 2011
A judge this week ruled that the city of San Diego can restrict the location of medical marijuana dispensaries based on its zoning laws.
San Diego County Superior Court Judge Ronald Prager wrote that state law regarding medical marijuana addresses the cultivation and possession for medicinal purposes, but not zoning and business licensing.
“(State law) does not address the licensing or location of medical marijuana dispensaries, nor does it prohibit local regulations of such dispensaries,” Prager wrote in the decision Thursday.
Meanwhile, City Attorney Jan Goldsmith announced more lawsuits against another 16 collectives for allegedly violating local zoning code. The continued flow of local legal action comes a week after federal prosecutors signaled a massive crackdown on marijuana statewide.
“Our job is to enforce the law as to dispensaries operating illegally in the city of San Diego,” Goldsmith said on Friday. “We are also willing to work out settlements with those building owners who are committed to voluntarily removing illegal drug operations from their buildings.”
Under the decision, Ocean Beach Wellness Center at 4851 Newport Ave. was ordered to shutter its operation Thursday. The collective was part of an initial batch of 12 lawsuits brought by the city last month against businesses believed to be operating within 600 feet of schools, a violation of state law.
Roger Jon Diamond, an attorney for Ocean Beach Wellness Center, did not immediately return a message left at his office Friday.
Jessica McElfresh, an attorney representing collectives in the city, said the court’s decision Thursday was important because it essentially agreed with Goldsmith. That should make it harder for other dispensaries to mount legal defenses against the city, McElfresh said.
“It was a ruling about the city’s general position. It was not just a ruling specifically focusing on OB Wellness,” she said.
The city’s medical marijuana collectives have been in legal limbo since officials determined in 2009 that they don’t fit within any of the existing zones. However, neither Goldsmith nor Mayor Jerry Sanders pressed for enforcement while the City Council worked to craft an ordinance specifying where the storefronts could locate.
An ordinance outlining where the dispensaries were permitted was approved by council members in April, but they repealed it in July after a successful referendum signature drive.
The number of dispensaries increased from about 160 to a high of 187, authorities said. As Goldsmith prepared to pursue further legal action, the federal government escalated pressure on medical marijuana collectives.
U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy, whose district includes San Diego and Imperial counties, mailed hundreds of letters warning operators of marijuana co-ops and their landlords to shut down within 45 days or risk criminal prosecution and property seizures.
Californians voted in favor of medical marijuana in 1996. However, its use remains illegal under federal law.