San Jose Passes Medical Marijuana Law, then Starts Shutting Down Shops

Thursday, December 12, 2013

San Jose didn’t have a medical marijuana law until Tuesday night, after the city council rejected a motion, 7-4, to ban dispensaries, then passed an ordinance that approves and partially regulates them—and immediately started shutting many of them down.

The city has some 80 dispensaries, which pay a 10% local business tax that generates $5.4 million annually, but they are scattered all about and don’t have much oversight. San Jose voted to conjure up a complete regulatory framework within 90 days that will keep dispensaries 1,000 feet away from schools, parks, recreation centers, libraries and other marijuana vendors. They also can’t be within 500 feet of rehabilitation centers and 150 feet of residential properties.

The San Jose Mercury News said the city will quickly send notices to shops next to homes that they have to leave and expects them all to be gone in a month or two.

The San Francisco Business Times says a city memo indicates the changes will move most of the marijuana business to North and South San Jose. The Mercury News said the regulations realistically limit the dispensaries to 1% of the city’s land and most of that is in a tiny portion of the industrial north section.

The California Supreme Court unanimously ruled in May in Riverside v. Inland Empire Patients (pdf) that local governments can ban medical marijuana dispensaries. And just before Thanksgiving, the California Court of Appeal for the Third District Appellate District ruled in James Maral et al v. City Live Oak (pdf) that cities can ban the cultivation of marijuana, even when grown for medical purposes.

The 1,000-foot restriction mirrors federal guidelines for dispensaries that the feds themselves do not approve of. Federal law criminalizes possession and sale of marijuana. State guidelines settle for 600 feet and state law made medical marijuana legal in 1996. In 2004, the state passed the Compassionate Use Act to authorize non-profit coops to sell it.

San Jose is home to the sister dispensary of Harborside Health Center in Oakland, purportedly the world’s largest. Both Harborside outlets are also the most visible shops among the hundreds targeted statewide by the U.S. Attorneys office since an October 2011 crackdown began. Harborside is currently in court fighting closure orders by the feds.

San Jose’s attempt to get a handle on its medical marijuana trade is happening against a statewide backdrop of growing acceptance of pot, in general. A new Field Poll (pdf) found 55% of Californians favor legalizing marijuana, medical or otherwise, and only 31% oppose it.

That’s a reversal from 1969, two years after the Summer of Love, when only 13% of Californians favored legalization and 75% wanted to continue the ban with perhaps stricter enforcement. Comedian Lenny Bruce used to say that marijuana would eventually be legal “because the many law students who now smoke pot will one day be Congressmen and they will legalize it to protect themselves.”

Turns out it’s not just former law students who think that’s a good idea.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:  

San Jose Medical Marijuana Crackdown Begins after Council Vote on Regulations (by Mike Rosenberg, San Jose Mercury News)

San Jose Green Lights Medical Marijuana, with Rules (by Lauren Hepler, San Francisco Business Times)

Legal Pot Supported by California Majority for First Time, Field Poll Shows (by Josh Richman, San Jose Mercury News)

In a First, Majority of California Voters Back Marijuana Legalization (by Jeremy B. White, Sacramento Bee)

Californians’ Support for Legalized Recreational Pot Trends Higher (by Sharon Bernstein, Reuters)

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