San Diego

Pot Shop Regulations Debated as San Diego City Council Vote Looms

The city council will vote on long-awaited medical marijuana dispensary regulations Tuesday

As medicinal marijuana shop entrepreneurs compete for a limited number of permits, San Diego's City Council is poised to vote Tuesday on regulations that community activists say are too permissive -- and won't be enforced effectively.

The issue of managing medicinal marijuana distribution has been frustrating City Hall for more than four years.

Under the regulatory scheme now up for consideration, pot-shop permits have become valuable commodities.

That’s because only four are allowed for each of San Diego’s nine city council districts, and 18 are being sought in District 2 alone, not far from the Valley View Casino Center in the Midway District.

The applicants apparently are on board with them, but not outraged neighborhood activists.

"The city's going in a good direction in getting regulations, but the big problem is, they're trying to regulate criminal activity, which is very difficult,” said Scott Chipman, founder of San Diegans for Safe Neighborhoods. “We are not convinced that the city has the money involved that's necessary to regulate these things properly."

Even delivery people for medicinal marijuana storefronts will be subject to numerous regulations recommended for the council’s approval by city staff.

On Monday, an NBC 7 news team checked out industrially zoned locations on a two-block stretch of Hancock Street, where four buildings are targeted by permit applications to operate “Medical Marijuana Consumer Cooperatives."

That's a dilemma because such dispensaries aren't allowed within 1,000 feet of another.

Executives in a second-floor office in one of the buildings declined comment on the prospect of becoming under-the-same-roof neighbors with a medical pot dispensary.

A construction contractor working on a new restaurant interior downstairs told us it shouldn’t be much of an issue, but the restaurateur who hired him didn’t give us a call after her contractor took my business card and relayed our interest in speaking with her.

As for the difficulty of enforcing the proposed regulations, “We’ve seen a history of criminal activity,” said Chipman. “Shootouts, burglaries, break-ins and assaults all around these things -- and it's all related to the marijuana itself."

But attorney Jessica McElfresh, who represents medicinal marijuana industry interests, said rogue operators are the predominant players in those scenarios and permit applicants are being held to high, costly standards.

"No one would go through this process if they did not intend to follow all the rules and if they did not see tremendous value in following the rules,” said McElfresh said in an interview Monday.

But can the city really afford to inspect and investigate at a level that generates widespread compliance?

"The operators will be paying these fees basically,” McElfresh explained. “The city performs the work, they submit a bill, and people pay it … I have no reason to believe the city of San Diego has any intention other than to take its own ordinance very seriously and to enforce it."

Under the municipal code for proposals that go before the council, the city would conduct background checks and have access to test the marijuana for pesticides, mold, mildew and bacteria.

Critics say potency labels should be on the products, with shops banned from selling "concentrates," oils and edibles.

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