San Diego County bans marijuana dispensaries


The San Diego County Board of Supervisors banned medical and non-medical marijuana facilities within the unincorporated areas of the county in a 3-2 vote on March 15. Supervisor Kristin Gaspar proposed the ban in January in the interest of public safety in an “uncertain environment.”

“We have ever-growing demands on law enforcement, we have ever-growing demands on our budget. In my personal view, San Diego really can’t afford the unintended consequences on the horizon related to recreational marijuana,” Gaspar said. “We can’t afford at this time to intensify the situation, and we have an obligation to keep our communities safe and fiscally sound.”

Supervisors Greg Cox and Ron Roberts voted against the ban.

Recently adopted state laws permit jurisdictions to impose bans and the county’s amendments don’t preclude the private use of medical and non-medical marijuana, as allowed by California law. The proposed zoning changes will cause three existing medical marijuana collective facilities and two other vested facilities to become nonconforming and would need to cease operations within five years.

The board also voted 4-1 to extend the moratorium on the establishment of medical marijuana collective facilities with Roberts voting no.

“I feel very strongly that we ought to be establishing medical marijuana facilities in keeping with the state initiative,” Roberts said. “The ban is an attempt to have an excuse not to have anything, I’m not going to vote for that.”

Roberts and Cox favored the “reasonable” compromise proposed by the planning commission. The planning commission did not recommend the ban and instead recommended limiting dispensaries to five existing operating facilities, banning new additional dispensaries and to consider future ordinances in 2018 when state regulations are in place regarding cannabis farming in agricultural zones.

In January, the city of San Diego legalized recreational pot dispensaries and opened up the possibility to allow farms, manufacturing facilities and testing labs. There are 15 dispensaries throughout the city; the closest location in North County is on Roselle Street in Sorrento Valley.

The city of Del Mar has an existing prohibition in place for both medical- and non-medical marijuana- related businesses, and the city of Solana Beach also has a ban in place for medical marijuana cultivation delivery and dispensaries.

At the over three-hour hearing March 15, the supervisors heard from 49 speakers, the majority opposed to the ban, including medical marijuana patients, business owners and farmers.

Those in favor asked the board to seek a compromise that preserved access. Borrego Springs resident Jake Fredericks said as the country is in the middle of a prescription drug overdose epidemic, medical marijuana is an alternative that helps people fighting debilitating disease, pain and chronic disorders.

“Regulation is the appropriate response to deal with the safety concerns of the community, the will of the voters and the patients’ needs,” Borrego Springs resident Jake Fredericks said.

Some in favor of the ban, including several parents and Judi Strang, the executive director of the San Dieguito Alliance for Drug Free Youth, spoke about their current fight against the “normalization of pot use” among kids.

The speakers were not against using marijuana medicinally but against the “commercialization” of marijuana.

Chris Brown, who represented the Ramona Community Planning Group and small businesses affected by the ban, said while youth marijuana use and abuse is “troubling and concerning to us all, it is not the result of medical marijuana dispensaries.”

In voting against the ban, Supervisor Cox said that his biggest fear is that the county could see an initiative placed on the ballot to deal with medicinal and non-medicinal marijuana facilities that could take away county control and possibly result in even more proliferation of facilities. He said such an initiative would be posed to see strong support as 57 percent of county residents supported Prop 64.

“We will have basically abdicated our ability as a board to regulate the use of medical marijuana,” Cox warned. “It will be the logical consequence of this board taking action imposing this ban.”

Chair Dianne Jacob said people only need to look to Colorado to realize that the legalization of marijuana has been a “disaster” and hasn’t produced the amount of revenue that it was believed to have generated. She said Colorado has seen an increase in marijuana-related traffic accidents, an increase in marijuana-related emergency room admissions, an increase in youth use and the black market has also surged as the number of drug cartels has increased.

“If voters in California truly knew what law enforcement knows and the Colorado experience, they would not have voted for Prop 64,” Jacob said.

“I firmly believe that marijuana use is detrimental to the health of kids and further actions to legalize marijuana would subject them to the many detrimental health effects that marijuana is associated with,” Jacob said. “A ban is in the best interest of public safety and the best interest of the people and the kids in our communities.”

Since Gaspar’s proposal for the ban in January, she said she has been subject to a level of “non-civil discourse” including communication that she should be shot, that she is an unfit mother and that she wants to send cancer patients to jail. Gaspar said she is sympathetic to the impactful patient stories she has heard and has plenty of exposure to the issue from patients at her physical therapy practice who have benefited from medical marijuana use.

Gaspar said it isn’t the board’s job to debate whether medical marijuana is helping patients — she believes that it is — but it is more about looking at the fiscal impact and the negative impacts on youth.

She said with the hundreds of medical marijuana patients she has interacted with, no one has brought up a lack of access.