San Diego, the State’s Second-Largest City, Has Its First Legal Pot Shop

Thursday, March 19, 2015

A Green Alternative may be San Diego’s first legal medical marijuana dispensary, but it already knows something about its customers. The shop is located in Otay Mesa, nestled in a strip mall near McDonald’s, Carl’s Jr., Subway and IHOP.

The dispensary’s website says the grand opening is Friday, but U-T San Diego’s David Garrick stopped by Wednesday morning for the real opening and got there before the lines formed. The commercially zoned area is five miles from a neighborhood. He found a nondescript shop, next to an insurance office, whose sign gave no indication it sold pot. Garrick did not critique the product.

The second-largest city in California is about the 50th city in the state to allow dispensaries. That is not to say dispensaries are not selling pot in San Diego. There are an estimated 100 operating illegally, the aftermath of a chaotic 18 years since California voters first approved medical marijuana. Weedmaps shows no shortage of outlets, but they are almost all “deliveries only.”    

The entire state has been whipsawed by conflicting forces at the local, state and federal levels; in courts, legislatures, agencies and executive branches. Marijuana is still illegal under federal law. But conservative San Diego has seen in its own particular kind of schizophrenic play out, especially in recent years.

The city did not have an ordinance regulating medical marijuana until 2011, although a number of illegal pot shops had opened by then. The law was so restrictive, voters repealed it and elected Democrat Bob Filner, a medical marijuana advocate, as mayor. Meanwhile, City Attorney Jan Goldsmith continued to shut down dispensaries.

One of Filner’s first acts in January 2013 was to end the city’s crackdown on pot shops. He denounced their “persecution” by the city attorney and demanded that prosecutions of pot shops be stopped. Filner ordered police and code compliance officers to stop going after dispensaries. He also called for a temporary halt to city prosecutions of what were considered illegal shops while new regulations were put together for distribution of the drug.

Goldsmith, who had overseen closure of about 100 dispensaries at the behest of police and code enforcement officials, said he would drop pending prosecutions of a dozen pot shops. 

That all changed in September 2013. Filner was driven from office in a scandal over the sexual harassment of women and one of the first acts of acting Mayor Todd Gloria was to reinstate the crackdown.

The city did not have an ordinance for regulating medical marijuana until last March. The one it passed limits the number of medical marijuana cooperatives to four per City Council district and 36 overall. A lawsuit challenging the ordinance cited an analysis by the San Diego Regional Planning Agency (SANDAG) which indicated that three of the districts don't really have places for four cooperatives and the true total number is actually 30. Those cooperatives would be concentrated in a few areas.

The dispensary expects to service between 7,500 and 10,000 people the first month. San Diego has approved two more dispensaries, scheduled to open in the spring. A fourth is expected to be approved soon to service its 1.36 million residents.  

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

SD's First Legal Pot Shop Opens Quietly (by David Garrick, U-T San Diego)

A First Look Inside San Diego's First Legal, Medical Pot Shop (by Dave Summers, NBC San Diego)

San Diego Explained: Where the City Stands on Medical Marijuana (by Matthew Hose, Voice of San Diego)

Marijuana Advocates Claim San Diego Limits on Pot Shops Will Cause Pollution (by Ken Broder, AllGov California)

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