San Diego’s Social Equity Plan for Cannabis Retail Moves Forward

by on August 30, 2022 · 5 comments

in Health, San Diego

By Terrie Best

With both the county and the city making moves to ease restrictions on where cannabis retail outlets can exist through a cannabis social equity plan, we should look at high density areas.

Many urban neighborhoods have been left out of retail access mostly due to arbitrary “drug prevention” notions. These drug prevention tactics are not rooted in evidence, have the effect of personalizing the drug war to you in your home and to arbitrate how you make your medical choices.

It has been a widely accepted but flawed policy that drug prevention strategies be pointed at the inner city. This is wrong and not only targets African-Americans and people of color as shown by numerous studies but also, through zoning restrictions, leaves certain San Diego city neighborhoods without access to cannabis and other commodities deemed as vices by the government.

Cannabis is medicine and medicine is not immoral. Many people depend on cannabis therapies for quality of life, including help with pain, movement issues, PTSD, easing nightmares, anxiety and insomnia. Cannabis is gentle and doesn’t cause brain fog or a narcotic feeling.

Unfortunately, some organizations who claim to advocate health, wellness and good cannabis policy actually advocate for treating cannabis like a vice with no medical value. In fact, an organization with the misleading name Getting it Right From the Start advocates that governments even outlaw claims of medical efficacy in their cannabis policy.

Another harmful drug war stance is to ban cannabis in multi-tenant housing. Which, if adopted, would leave renters and low income people without a means to use their medicine.  These are the tactics of the drug war that cause the most harm. Marginalization through irresponsible and arbitrary punitive policy.

Last week, Kim Desmond and Lara Gates, the two hard-working city staff members who are crafting the city’s cannabis social equity program, presented their  work to the planning commission.

Historically, the commissioners have been supportive of cannabis regulation. This is a new batch of commissioners since the city first provided zoning for retail cannabis but they are equally if not more supportive of equity in cannabis than their predecessors.  I once heard a former commissioner refer to the drug prevention zealots who show up to oppose any cannabis regulation as “obstacles to public safety.” That is appropriate and not much has changed about these prevention groups except the subterfuge.

These funded groups advance themselves to local governing bodies as a “Smart” approach but they are actively trying to unwind sound science which says, retail outlets do not cause crime, cannabis is medicine and the mere smell of cannabis in a hallway does not produce an effect that warrants litigation.

As Paul Armentano, Deputy Director of NORML points out in this recent  Marijuana Moment article:

With public support for marijuana policy reform reaching super-majority status in recent years, prohibitionists and other political opponents have largely abandoned efforts to try and influence public opinion. Rather, they are now relying on gamesmanship to prevent voters from weighing in on the issue. In some cases, they are even willing to overturn the will of the electorate to get their way.

These groups can not be underestimated and it is going to take more than passive support to turn drug policy around so we can follow the science instead.

Gates and Desmond will be presenting the widely-supported cannabis social equity plan to the Economic Development and Intergovernmental Relations Committee on September 7th at 2PM.

The EDIR Committee members are Raul Campillo of D7 (Chair), Chris Cate of D6 (Vice Chair), Jennifer Campbell D2, and Monica Montgomery Steppe D4. (The links lead to their pages where you can see email addresses.)

Currently, special interests and prohibitionists are lobbying hard to keep cannabis outlets out of high density areas. It is important to give our representatives the support they need to not cave to pressure and to allow safe access in under-served communities.

The cannabis social equity plan goes before the entire council on September 20th at 2PM. If we are to show we truly care for our neighbors we will need to let the council know safe access is important in ALL neighborhoods. The “Not in Their Backyard Either” (NITBYE’s) prohibitionist crowd who come from well-served areas to dictate what happens in Black and brown neighborhoods has to stop.

As citizens we have an opportunity to support the racially-marginalized communities and be sure they are at the forefront of this new plan. We must ease entry to the market and see that new retail outlets serve the neighborhoods currently left out of safe access to cannabis medicine.

Here is a link to the city’s social equity assessment.

Please come to council! Here are some great tips from Abbey Roudebush, Director of Government Affairs at Americans for Safe Access on how to engage your political representatives. It is written to engage federal representatives but it can be applied locally too by advocating for convenient access.

Terrie Best is in the leadership of the local ASA, which is a national organization with multiple chapters advancing the therapeutic use of medical cannabis. The San Diego Chapter meets at 7PM on the 4th Tuesday of the month at Elijah’s Restaurant.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Tyler August 30, 2022 at 3:03 pm

Hi Terrie,

Appreciate the update. Is anything being done to amend Martin Emerald’s shortsighted rule of limiting the number of licenses per district? From a social equity standpoint, this is a big one, as the limit created a de facto oligopoly of mostly white owners who are now lobbying to keep new players out.


Terrie Best August 30, 2022 at 4:07 pm

Hi Tyler,
Thanks for asking. The Social Equity Plan recommends an additional 32 licenses. That would go a long way and it would have to be the end of the cap or course. The key is to get these 32 new licenses, as well as some consumption lounges in the areas which have been pummeled by the drug war. Bottom line, we need every one of the 32 AND lounges and we need them in areas where the people are. Not the far-flung industrial zones. Hope to see you at City Hall on 09/07@2PM and on 09/20@2PM.


Tyler August 31, 2022 at 10:31 am

Thanks for the reply! Glad to hear. I will be there in spirit (work obligations)


kh August 31, 2022 at 11:27 am

I believe these are where they are because that’s where the cheap commercial leases overlap with the allowable zoning. I know there is an allotment per council district as well that keeps the production facilities spread out. If anything the map appears to show a lack of outlets in the wealthiest neighborhoods. See page 25:

This proposal seems to be in part trying to alter the demographics of who owns and operate such facilities. Certainly a tall leap for anyone without financial means, as is any business venture. Any arbitrary metrics that predominately deny minority and disadvantaged applicants, such as a petty marijuana conviction, sure, let’s re-evaluate. But I’m a little uneasy about where this road ends.

Should the city council be mettling in the ownership and licensing of breweries if ownership doesn’t include an adequate distribution of melanin?

Or perhaps this is actually a disguised effort by our better-off residents and neighborhoods to concentrate these “undesireable” businesses into poor areas?


Terrie Best September 1, 2022 at 4:55 am

I understand that thought process but in actuality, land use restrictions around churches, parks and schools forbid retail outlets to be within a certain distance so there were few spaces approved to begin with. This is mostly why they are where they are. Once landlords understood how valuable their unrestricted zone was, the rents did not stay the same though. The effort is less about melanin and more about compensating over-policed neighborhoods, prioritizing communities being left out due to silly sensitive use restrictions and shoring up over-policed people due to the harm that caused. Rich neighborhoods don’t have safe access for the same zoning reasons but studies show those neighborhoods were not over-policed nor faced outsized harm from the drug war. Still, all neighborhoods should have safe access. It’s just that for justice and equity the over policed neighborhoods need to be looked at first.


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