City of La Mesa Announces New Rules for Medical Marijuana Businesses

City official says code enforcement will no longer be cracking down on illegal dispensaries, instead focusing on permitting legal medical marijuana businesses under the new rules.

UPDATE: The City announced Tuesday it would be postponing accepting applications for medical marijuana businesses and expects to begin doing so by January 30.

As the city of La Mesa inches closer to allowing medical marijuana dispensaries to operate legally, the city’s Community Development Director told a crowded room of hopeful marijuana entrepreneurs on Monday the city’s code enforcement division would no longer be cracking down on illegal dispensaries. 

Beginning Thursday, the city plans to start accepting applications for medical marijuana dispensaries, cultivation and manufacturing sites. This comes after voters approved Measure U, an ordinance allowing medical marijuana businesses to operate within city limits through a permitting and licensing process. 

UPDATE: On Tuesday, the city announced they were postponing accepting applications and said it plans to begin doing so by January 30. The city did not give an exact date but said prospective applicants can begin receiving “line status numbers” beginning Tuesday.

The permits will be issued on a first come, first serve basis and businesses must adhere to a list of guidelines including specific zones where businesses can operate, in order to have their application or business permit approved, according to the city. 

On Monday, the city’s Community Development Department held a Measure U workshop to share the city’s process for accepting applications as well as the specific city zones designated for certain medical marijuana uses and rules future-business owners must follow. 

Citizens packed the room at the La Mesa Community Center where the workshop was held. 

The announcement that seemed to strike a chord with those at the meeting was an announcement Carol Dick, La Mesa’s Community Development Director made at the workshop. 

She told the crowd the city’s code enforcement will no longer be cracking down on illegal medical marijuana dispensaries, rather, she said, they will be focusing on Measure U and the soon-to-be legal shops approved in the permitting process. 

The question of what would be done to pre-existing illegal dispensaries, or dispensaries operating without paying business taxes or with approved city permits, was brought up by members in the workshop’s crowd. 

“This is the remedy for that,” Dick said, referring to Measure U. 

When asked whether or not new owners, who are taking legal steps to open medical marijuana businesses in La Mesa, would have any advantage over those owners operating shops illegally, Dick said the answer was “no.” She explained those illegal owners would be treated just the same as new owners hoping to get permits approved. 

During Monday’s workshop, La Mesa city officials also informed the public there is no cap on how many dispensaries or cultivation sites can be open within the city limits. Instead what will determine the number of businesses is how many shops can operate in the approved zones, while staying 600-feet away from schools and other “sensitive uses” such as childcare, daycare facilities or public parks. 

Approved dispensaries also are required to be located 1,000 feet from other approved dispensaries or cultivation sites, according to the city’s regulations. 

To see the city’s map of ‘eligible zones’ for medical marijuana businesses, click here.

Delivery or mobile marijuana dispensary services remain prohibited in the city of La Mesa but business owners transporting their business’ marijuana goods-for-sale are allowed to do so within the city. 

Entrepreneurs in attendance at the workshop asked city officials, including members of the La Mesa Police Department, whether or not people could start lining up to have their chance at being one of the first to apply for a permit on Thursday. 

Lt. Matt Nicholas from the La Mesa Police Department told the crowd camping overnight on city hall property was not allowed, but police could not use force to remove someone from city property. 

Originally, city officials were going to start accepting applications on Thursday but according to an alert sent out, city planners received a significant number of questions and comments they wish to address before accepting applications. 

According to the city, applicants are allowed to come to the city’s Planning Counter at La Mesa City Hall between the hours of 7:30am and 5:30pm, Tuesday through Thursday, to receive a line status number.

La Mesa is the third city in San Diego County to allow medical marijuana businesses to operate legally. 

The City of San Diego has been accepting dispensary applications since 2014 and according to city documents obtained by NBC 7 through the California Public Records Act, 15 locations have been legally permitted to operate as of November 14, 2016. 

Lemon Grove voters also passed an ordinance in November to remove an existing ban on medical marijuana businesses. 

To read more about Lemon Grove, click here.

In addition to the three cities, five dispensaries were approved in unincorporated areas of San Diego County.

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