Notes on the History of San Diego’s Medical Marijuana Regulations

by on May 20, 2015 · 1 comment

in California, Civil Rights, Culture, History, Ocean Beach, Politics, San Diego

Pt Loma Dems MedMJ panel

Terrie Best, Alex Kreit, and Ebon Johnson

Less than a month ago, the Point Loma Democratic Club held a panel discussion on the topic of the history of San Diego’s medical marijuana regulations – and the following is based upon my notes of that discussion.

The panel included Terrie Best from the San Diego Chapter of Americans for Safe Access, Alex Kreit, Associate Professor and director of the Center for Law and Social Justice at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, and Ebon Johnson, director of the Green Nectar Dispensary. Cynara Velasquez, an activist on the issue and club member, served as moderator.

(Rather than an account of what each panelist said, this is more of a compilation of the points made, both during the panelists’ presentations and during the question and answer session that followed.)

medical-marijuanaIn 1996, Prop 215, the Medicinal Marijuana Initiative for California passed. It essentially protected patients and gave limited protections for care givers. However, there was yet no official recognition of medical marijuana dispensaries, yet some entities opened up as “care givers” – but they were on shaky legal grounds.

Ever since, San Diego has been behind the ball.

During the State Legislative session in 2004, the legislators realized the problems with Prop 215, a main one being it did not explicitly include access. So, the Medical Marijuana Protection act was passed and it promised to allow medical marijuana cooperatives.

Some cities were quick to enact regulations for dispensaries and cooperatives, paying the way for patients to obtain access to the medical weed. Those cities that did not enact regs -such as San Diego –  there’s still many dispensaries but with no local oversight.

By 2008, these type of collectives were popping up in San Diego, and in 2009 the City formed a Task Force to look into the issue, which included 11 people from all sides of the table. Alex Kreit had been chair of the Task Force. The next year, the City Council studied the recommendations of the Task Force, and ended up adopting many of them. The recommendations allowed dispensaries to open in most commercial zones, with some limitations, such as 600 feet from a school, etc.

In 2011, there was a referendum on medical MJ regulations and then Mayor Filner – a strong supporter of medical ganja – was elected in 2012. But after Filner’s demise, the City Council has since returned to the more restrictive limitations, which allow dispensaries only 100 feet from residences, 1000 feet from other dispensaries, churches, parks, schools, etc. Only 4 dispensaries will be allowed in each city council district, for a total of only 13 city-wide.

Today, these restrictions are producing a very small number of dispensaries. Only one in the city of San Diego has opened – out in Otay Mesa – and another is being set to open in the Midway District. And there is only one “legal” dispensary in the County so far, as well.

Medical MJ storefrontMeantime, on the County of San Diego side of the issue, DA Dumanis has a history of prosecuting patients – which prompted the San Diego chapter of ASA to form in response, Terrie Best explained.The ASA has tried different tactics over the years, such as lobbying politicos, but most importantly, it provides patient support to those being prosecuted. Often, they feel very wronged. Dumanis also took the issue all the way to the California Supreme Court using taxpayer monies – and failed.

The experience of Ebon Johnson, one of the panelists, was most instructive into the state of San Diego’s medical MJ regulations.  He first saw how it helped his family and friends, how it helped people with PTSD and chronic pain, for instance.  This changed his perspective on the entire issue.

Today, he is the director of the Green Nectar dispensary – but it hasn’t opened. Johnson had originally applied for one a year ago, in late May of 2014. The city told him it would take from 6 to 9 months, yet now it’s been a year.   And so far, he’s expecting to spend between $68,000 to $90,000, and estimates it will cost him ultimately $130,000 just to open.

Plus Johnson has other problems – such as taxes and growers.

Taxes? He has to issue 1099s but is not able to write off business expenses, as he’s dealing with a Federal Schedule 1 drug.

Growers – Johnson wants to test for pesticides – and wishes the city would make it mandatory. Also, right now, there’s no protections for growers.

Alex Kreit pressed home the point that there is a great need for the legislation in Sacramento to get on top of the issue – especially as the 2016 state ballot is expected to include up to 3 recreational marijuana initiatives. California law is outdated, and needs to be fixed before any of the ballot measure pass, as there is no state-wide regulations covering access, safety, pesticides and all the attendant issues.  Other states, such as Colorado, had a system in place so when their voters passed legalization, things went a lot smoother. The state of Washington, in contrast, did not, and things have been some what chaotic.

Two problems remain.  Marijuana is still a Schedule 1 drug – it needs to be lowered to Schedule 2 in Federal law.  This means that politicians need to be lobbied.

And there needs, as just noted, state-wide regulations, not the piece-meal system that is now in place which allows the extreme restrictions that such cities – such as San Diego –  have already passed. There is also cause for concern that these restrictive requirements of San Diego will be made permanent.

It’s anticipated that there may be 3 separate ballot measures in 2016, and it appears from polls that legalization of marijuana is coming to California, but unless Californians get it together, the legality may usher in a chaotic system of regulations.


{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Desde la Logan May 24, 2015 at 9:27 am

“In 2011, there was a referendum on medical MJ regulations…”

Actually, MMJ proponents gathered signatures for a referendum which forced the City Council to back down from their initial dispensary regulations. There was never an actual referendum on the issue of dispensaries. Unfortunately, since then the City has implemented even harsher restrictions.


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