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SD Council tightens pot dispensary rules

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Medical marijuana dispensaries will have to post warning signs on their products, which may face inspections for the presence of pesticides, molds and other toxins, under amended regulations passed almost unanimously by the San Diego City Council on Tuesday.

Both proponents and opponents of medical marijuana said the regulations -- a list of requirements for obtaining a conditional use permit to operate a dispensary -- were too vague and should be tightened to protect public safety.

"A lot of things in this proposal need additional follow-ups and specificity about what we're doing," said Councilmember Lorie Zapf, who voted against the regulations, suggesting that the proposal should be sent back to the Smart Growth and Land Use Committee for changes.

But Zapf was the only "no" vote on the council. Councilmember Todd Gloria said if changes are needed, they can be made as the bill moves forward.

"We pass things all the time that we make changes to as we move along," he said. "That's what good policymakers do."

He added that it is "way past time to get something in place," 18 years after California voters first approved of marijuana for medical uses, more than a decade after the state passed a law authorizing dispensaries -- and more than three years after the City Council drafted its first set of rules for regulating the industry, which were withdrawn and revised after dispensaries threatened to block them through a ballot initiative.

"These young men [in the audience] weren't even born yet when voters first passed the medical marijuana initiative, and I've spent a good part of my time on the City Council working on this issue," Gloria said. "It's maddening and silly. Time's wasting. Let's get this done."

The 8-1 vote for the amendments paves the way for the city to begin issuing conditional use permits for dispensaries, which will not happen immediately since the proposed dispensaries have other hurdles to leap over.

Although there are around four dozen dispensaries operating in San Diego, they are currently operating without permits and are gradually being shut down by local law enforcement services.

Council President Pro Tem Marti Emerald, who introduced the amendments to the dispensary permitting process, suggested the revisions would protect patients by suggesting that products should be labeled for their potency, and opening the door for health inspectors to check the products for such toxins as pesticides, mold, mildew and bacteria.

But opponents of the dispensaries, such as Scott Chipman, a founder of Citizens Against Legalizing Marijuna, were joined by dispensary representatives in telling the council that the new rules were too lax.

Steven Lubell, attorney for the Mission Bay Cooperative, which hopes to open a dispensary at 4645 De Soto St., noted that the amendments say the city "may" inspect products for toxins and that cooperatives are "encouraged" rather than "required" to label their products for potency.

"These suggestions ought to be hard requirements as a matter of public safety," Lubell said in an interview.

Lubell said many marijuana users, such as cancer patients, already have weakened immune systems, so exposure to any toxins could have drastic consequences.

"Cancer patients have to be sure about what's in the product they're taking," he said. "Having an ordinance that merely suggests that something be done is not effective."

Councilmember Chris Cate agreed that "there were a lot of 'mays' and 'potentials' in places where I would be hoping we get a few 'shalls.'" But he voted for the amendments anyway because "this is a step-by-step process" that would allow for more amendments in the future."

The amendments passed by the council include:

+ requiring a background check on permit applicants;

+ imposing a one-year limit on the permits, which could also be revoked if the dispensary fails to comply with regulations;

+ requiring specific warning language on product labels and interior signage; and,

+ requiring delivery truck drivers who carry marijuana products to housebound patients to carry special IDs and other documents.

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City of San Diego

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San Diego, CA 92101

City of San Diego Executive(s):

Sherri Lightner

  • Council President Pro Tem

Kevin Faulconer

  • Mayor

Todd Gloria

  • Council President

Myrtle Cole

  • City Council Member

Mark Kersey

  • City Council Member

Lorie Zapf

  • City Council Member

Scott Sherman

  • City Council Member

David Alvarez

  • City Council Member

Marti Emerald

  • City Council Member

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