Medical marijuana has become a legal headache for many California cities and counties.
Monday afternoon, San Diego council members began looking closely at a possible remedy.
They soon discovered, in the course of an extended public hearing, that the measure has ignited some burning issues.
California voters approved the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes in 1996. But Proposition 215 -- the so-called "Compassionate Use Act" -- didn't specify how to distribute it, if not grown by qualified patients themselves.
The dispensaries filling that void, and their customers, are battling efforts to regulate the process.
On the council's docket was a regulatory scheme that would confine therapeutic cannabis dispensaries to certain commercial and industrial zones, and limit their operation to the hours from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.
The stores would have to have legal status as nonprofits, employ licensed security guards, and be located no closer than 1,000 feet apart from one another other, schools, parks, churches, libraries, playgrounds, child care facilities and youth centers.
To supporters of those measures, medicinal marijuana use has become a state of unregulated reefer madness since California voters approved Proposition 215 -- the so-called "Compassionate Use Act" -- in 1996.
Dozens of counties and cities have enacted outright bans or imposed a variety of restrictions on the pot shops, whose operators and landlords have been targeted with raids and code-compliance violations.
Opponents of the proposed ordinance, citing a shortage of commercial and industrial space that would qualify for permits, say it amounts to a de facto ban on medicinal marijuana in the city of San Diego.
"To force me to choose between suffocating and doing business with a drug dealer is morally repugnant," says Vey Linville, an emphysema sufferer who breathes with a portable oxygen tank. "I drink cannabis medicines to breathe. They keep me from suffocating."
"According to state law, we are legal. So we just want to keep that, and hold onto that. Because 'out there' is a lot tougher than where we're going to get what we've got now," said fellow medical marijuana patient Mark Sample.
City Council members raised a number of issues that seemed to trouble them about the ordinance.
And critics of the dispensaries, and certain clientele, argued that the proposal doesn't go far enough -- that there should be a total ban.
"It's not about seriously ill people getting their medicine," Pacific Beach resident Marcie Beckett told the Council. "It's really about the fact that medical marijuana has been hijacked by profiteers and recreational users."
"Any drug user, for any reason, can get a card to smoke pot legally," said Scott Chipman, chairman of San Diegans for Safe Neighborhoods. "That's where 97 percent of the marijuana being sold from storefront operations goes."