A company trying to open a medical marijuana dispensary in La Mesa has filed a petition in San Diego Superior Court against the city for rejecting their permit on appeal in April.
New Origins, which also operates a collective in San Ysidro, obtained a conditional-use permit from the La Mesa planning commission on March 21 to open a medical marijuana dispensary in the La Mesa Medical Plaza on University Avenue near El Cajon Boulevard.
The San Diego Center for Children, also located in the La Mesa Medical Plaza, appealed the Planning Commission’s decision to the full City Council, saying it operates an “after school program.” Under La Mesa regulations, marijuana businesses are prevented from opening within 1,000 feet of “minor-oriented facilities.”
La Mesa councilmembers unanimously rejected the highly-contested proposal to allow the dispensary to operate. The council's action went against the recommendation of city staff, according to backup material provided with the council agenda.
“Voters understand that if you want to open a medical marijuana collective, it would not be in a place where children are likely to go,” said Councilman Bill Baber at the April meeting. “San Diego Center for Children is probably a place where children will be centered.”
Wayne Scherer, the owner of New Origins, said he understood the concerns surrounding the dispensary but said that it would be run safely and professionally. He told NBC 7 he was disappointed with the result of the vote.
Scherer said he did not believe the center qualified as a sensitive use location, and in the court filing, his company states the Center never objected to the issuance of a conditional-use permit at the Planning Commission’s hearing.
At the Council Meeting where the Planning Commission decision was overturned, Scherer said he has already invested about $200,000 on rent, land-use costs and attorneys’ fees to open his business. He has operated a collective in San Ysidro since 2015.
In a petition filed last week, New Origins Management asks a San Diego Superior court to review and reverse the final decision of the La Mesa City Council, which would allow the medical marijuana dispensary to begin operations.
The filing states New Origins has relevant evidence “that demonstrates the Center’s services do not fit the definition of an after school program primarily devoted to people under the age of 18.”
Scherer said the facility appeared to be offices only and not a place where kids congregate without parental supervision.
In 2016, La Mesa voters approved Measure U, an ordinance that allows medical marijuana businesses to operate in the city through a permitting and licensing process.
According to the court filing, Measure U defined minor-oriented facilities as “any after school program, teen center, club for boys and/or girls, children’s theater, or children’s museum, where the primary use is devoted to people under the age of 18."
San Diego Center for Children told the City Council in April it is a non-profit that helps youngsters struggling with mental, emotional and behavioral issues. It has a contract with the County of San Diego and works with 27 schools in four school districts.
SDCC staff said it serves more than 500 at-risk children and their families and should be recognized as a minor-oriented facility. They want to be added to the city’s sensitive-use list, which would make it illegal for a dispensary to open within 1,000 feet of the grounds.
SDCC Vice President Cheryl Rode told the City Council only two locations in the entire city of La Mesa have been added to the sensitive-use list.
"It is clear that Measure U intended to ensure that medical marijuana dispensaries were located in appropriate areas by prohibiting dispensaries from being opened in areas where children congregate," Rode said. "The opening of a dispensary next to our facility constitutes a violation of this ordinance."
Scherer said in court filings he believes he was denied due process, and he wasn’t sure the City Council fully researched San Diego Center for Children’s role in the community.
“We’re a very well-intentioned group,” Scherer told NBC7 in April. “We understand some of the concerns that the community has about cannabis in general, but I think overall perception, and the things we do with our other licensed dispensary, could have really proved that we would be a super valuable addition to the community.”
La Mesa Mayor Mark Arapostathis, an educator, said the city is still learning the nuances involved with medical marijuana dispensaries in the city and that the process continues to evolve.