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Emerald: Medi-pot zoning proposals to council Dec. 8

November 11, 2009 - 1:42 pm

Now that San Diego’s Medical Marijuana Task Force has completed its work on zoning and land-use recommendations for collectives and collaboratives, Councilmember Marti Emerald says she expects her colleagues to take up the issue on Dec. 8. 

After the council-appointed, 11-member panel met for the last time this year on Friday, Emerald had nothing but praise for the diligence of a diverse group of volunteers – from community planners and medi-pot advocates to the clergy and a retired San Diego cop — who were given only five weeks to come up a litany of zoning-centric proposals.

“I think they really did work well together,” Emerald told CityBeat, “and from what I can tell, they put together pretty conscientious land-use recommendations.…We were really sort of painted into a corner here with getting it done before the end of the year, and the task force did it.”

Dispensary-banning proponents – the few who regularly attended the meetings — did their best to scuttle the work, trying unsuccessfully to link such establishments with drug cartels without a whisp of proof. But medi-pot advocates weren’t exactly celebrating, either.

“I still don’t see how a lot of this will be viewed by the mayor,” said Craig Beresh, director of NORML’s Southern California chapter, which presented its own proposed ordinance to the task force – even handing a copy of it to Mayor Jerry Sanders at a recent chance meeting at a local coffee shop. “It is the ‘strong mayor’ government after all. You’re going to need five councilmembers to get around him. Although I will say the mayor did thumb through our proposal when I handed it to him.”

Not all of the task force votes on zoning details were unanimous in recent weeks, but by the end the full panel did bless the final report.

Here’s what the task force recommended:

— A two-tiered permitting system, allowing collectives with fewer than 100 members to pursue a neighborhood use permit, which requires approval from Development Services staff but is appealable to the city’s Planning Commission. For establishments with more than 100 members, a Conditional Use Permit was recommended, requiring an OK from a city hearing officer. That decision also could be appealed to the Planning Commission.

— Prohibiting cooperatives and collectives from locating within 1,000 feet of schools, playgrounds, libraries, child-care facilities and youth centers and within 500 feet of another dispensary.

— Despite concerns from some task-force members on the cost burden for smaller dispensaries, the panel recommended that a “licensed” security guard and an “adequate” security system be required as well as adequate lighting for dispensaries and adjoining areas.

— Limiting hours of operation from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. seven days a week.

— Signage limited to the name of the dispensary and only two colors.

— Dispensaries should be limited to commercial and industrial zones or as allowed in existing planned district ordinances.

 — Applicants seeking approval for a medical-marijuana establishment would be required to submit evidence that they are legally incorporated as “statutory cooperatives or bona fide nonprofit corporations” or provide a plan detailing how they will operate as a not-for-profit, as laid out in guidelines developed by the state attorney general.

— An expiration date or renewal requirement, as per San Diego Municipal Code, could be assigned to a dispensary’s permit.

For medical-marijuana advocates like Arleigh Williams, a 71-year-old La Jolla real-estate agent and cancer survivor whose family recently opened a medi-pot collective in a Bay Park industrial park, setting city guidelines can’t come soon enough.

Williams, chief financial officer for New Earth Beginnings, appeared before the city Planning Commission last week seeking wisdom from city planners on his challenge of a decision by the Development Services Department that no land-use category currently exists for dispensaries. Instead, a bumbling commission prompted him to withdraw his appeal, choosing instead to let the task force complete its work.

Even commission counsel Andrea Dixon seemed ill-informed, suggesting that the task force would not be making its zoning recommendations until year’s end. In fact, the task force completed that work the next day. 

Williams had been required to write a $5,010 check to the city to pursue his appeal, which he did on Sept. 9, ironically the day local law enforcement raided 14 medi-pot collectives countywide, including 11 in the city.

What did he get for his money? According to Williams, simply a phone call three days before the hearing from a city employee asking to verify his business address. He said he wasn’t even told that his appeal would go before the Planning Commission later that week.

His son, Tom, said he’d hoped the appeal would start a discussion with the city, that “they’d ask us for our business model, input, something to help them come to this determination. But as far as we know, they didn’t do any due diligence. None.”

With a slight smile, Tom’s mom, Jennie, added: “They did cash our check, though.”

“It’s frustrating because we’re trying to do things so right, so by the book,” Arleigh Williams said. “If we’re not doing it right, it can’t be done right.”

The task force will reconvene in January to tackle the next hurdle: guidelines for medi-pot patients, caregivers and law enforcement.

Task force member and retired San Diego cop John Minto surprised many by saying it best: “We all got to learn a little bit about each other and found out that regardless of personal views, we all can get along….We all came to a majority conclusion, and that’s what it’s all about.”

One Comment leave one →
  1. sdbudz permalink
    November 14, 2009 - 12:26 pm 12:26 pm

    you know that joke about the Idiot ,its better to be thought of an Idiot,than to speak and release all doubt,that fits Craig Beresh like stink on poo

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