The San Diego City Council gave final approval to some sweeping zoning and public safety regulations for medical marijuana dispensaries.
But Tuesday night's vote wasn't without controversy. A handful of people against the measure staged a protest in council chambers. A few of them were detained and escorted out.
Minutes later, councilmembers returned and voted 5-2 ratifying the new restrictions confining dispensaries to light industrial and commercial areas of the city.
Council members Lorie Zapf and David Alvarez opposed the measures, according to the San Diego Union Tribune. Zapf said they don’t go far enough while Alvarez said they went too far, the paper reported. Councilman Carl DeMaio was absent for the vote, the UT reported.
The ordinance will essentially require dozens of medical pot dispensaries to close within a month and apply for operating permits.
Critics fear far fewer dispensaries will eventually reopen under the new rules, due to the tougher standards to obtain a permit.
Dispensaries will not be able to sell pot within 600 feet of places of worship, parks, schools and other sensitive locations.
Ben Cisneros, of the nonprofit Canvass for a Cause, believes the regulations would push clinics out to far-flung industrial zones patrolled by federal agents near the U.S.-Mexico border and other remote areas that are difficult to reach.
"They're trying to zone out medical cannabis dispensaries as if they were strip clubs and adult book stores," he said. "It's not providing access if you have to travel for hours on public transit and hours back with medical cannabis on you."
Medical marijuana has become a legal headache for many California cities and counties. Nearly a dozen cities across the state have imposed regulations in recent years that have forced many clinics to shutter their doors.
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 have proliferated under the Obama administration, which defers to state laws on medical marijuana, a departure from the crackdowns on pot clubs under President George W. Bush. Narcotics officers have raided dispensaries that investigators say are using medical marijuana as a pretense to sell drugs.