New Cannabis Bureau May Loosen City Policies in San Diego

by on December 31, 2020 · 4 comments

in Ocean Beach, San Diego

City streamlining enforcement, may consider looser regulations and ideas like consumption lounges

By David Garrick / San Diego Union-Tribune / Dec. 31, 2020

The new San Diego Cannabis Permitting Bureau launching this winter will streamline regulation of the city’s cannabis businesses, step up enforcement and explore new ideas like “consumption lounges” and delivery-only services.

The bureau also may focus on loosening city policies under New Mayor Todd Gloria and a Democrat-dominated City Council, who are expected to take a more permissive approach to legalized cannabis.

San Diego has been a regional leader by allowing cannabis dispensaries and production facilities across the city, but some say it hasn’t fostered the local industry as aggressively as Los Angeles, San Francisco, Oakland and some other California cities.

The new bureau aims to change that by putting together a team of specialists under one roof that will focus on clarifying city rules, cutting through red tape and making surprise visits to businesses to ensure compliance and safety.

The bureau also will focus on amending city policies, exploring new options and gathering feedback from cannabis opponents concerned about youth use of the drug and other potential problems.

“San Diego is not at the forefront, but we’re not at the tail end either,” said P.J. Fitzgerald, a deputy director in the Development Services Department who is leading the new bureau.

She said San Diego officials see cannabis as a growing industry they could foster, similar to craft brewing businesses. That’s possible because of new city leadership and the lack of major problems with cannabis businesses since the city legalized the industry in 2014.

“There is a whole new landscape out there,” Fitzgerald said. “Some perceived concerns from before didn’t happen. Retail stores are operating like regular retail stores.”

The City Council approved the bureau and nearly $1 million for eight city workers last summer, but it is just starting to take shape this winter after months of exploring what other cities and states do with similar cannabis oversight agencies.

“We’re really trying to take a few minutes to study the best way to move San Diego forward and not sort of jump in,” Fitzgerald said.

The bureau now consists of Fitzgerald and one other employee, but she said the rest of the staff should be hired in the next three to six months.

Their primary focus will be coordinating city efforts that have previously been spread across the Police Department, the city attorney’s office, the Fire Department, Economic Development and officials handling land-use approvals and building permits.

“We need to ensure that everyone knows what the rules are and they are clear,” she said.

The bureau will also focus on enforcement and compliance of city regulations, including surprise visits to businesses.

“Those will ensure things are how they should be,” Fitzgerald said. “If they aren’t, we will take decisive action.”

The bureau will also enforce other laws related to cannabis, such as the city’s recent ban on cannabis billboards near sensitive uses like schools.

The new bureau will meet quarterly with cannabis opponents to hear their concerns and with industry leaders to become aware of new ideas and any problems they are facing.

Among the new ideas Fitzgerald said she expects to explore are on-site consumption lounges and special cannabis events similar to farmer’s markets, as well as delivery-only businesses and a social equity program.

All of those have been tried in other cities, with varying degrees of success.

A social equity program would try to help low-income residents and minorities break into the industry, which can be expensive. It could include giving them a leg up for delivery-only businesses, which have lower start-up costs and overhead than dispensaries and production facilities.

The city now allows deliveries only by businesses that have a city-approved storefront for retail sales.

Consumption lounges could boost sales and help foster more cannabis tourism, which now faces the challenge of tourists buying cannabis here but having no convenient place to consume it.

Fitzgerald said San Diego may loosen some city policies that restrict where cannabis businesses can operate, but she said it would be premature to discuss that.

Industry leaders have long complained that San Diego is one of the only cities to prohibit cannabis businesses near churches. The city also requires the businesses to be in industrial areas, preventing them from being integrated into commercial areas like they are in Denver and other leading cannabis areas.

San Diego has approved 24 dispensaries, and 21 are now open. The city also has approved 40 production facilities, but only 11 of those have opened.

Fitzgerald said she expects to present the City Council with a proposal in early 2021 to fund the new bureau by levying an annual operating fee on all cannabis businesses. That would be in addition to special cannabis taxes they pay on all sales.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Avatar Bob Edwards January 1, 2021 at 9:19 am

Hopefully these aren’t just false promises. We need a few dispensaries in OB!

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Avatar Marc Johnson January 2, 2021 at 2:56 pm

With covid around they will be closed.

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Avatar Tyler January 3, 2021 at 9:48 am

I’m still angry at Emerald for that last second max number of dispensaries per district capped at like four. Between that and the archaic zoning restrictions, it’s created a de facto oligopoly where prices are way higher than anywhere else In major cities where it’s legal. Is it any wonder everyone still uses illegal delivery? Fix the zoning and cap and it’ll be healthy competition and marketplace.

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Avatar Unabis CBD January 14, 2021 at 6:59 am

I noticed that this year the number of things related to cannabis is growing rapidly and that’s cool! I very much hope for this discovery. I remember 10 years ago no one spoke about it at all. This is a great breakthrough for our country. And in general, in no country except ours is the development of marijuana as a medicinal product so rapidly, I do not argue that our illegal business is developing just as well, but still, it is developing all around, but there is no medicine! Thank you for such news, it is very relevant and interesting

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