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Where 10 San Diego County Cities Stand on Pot Regulations

Permits available to marijuana business on Jan. 1 will help usher a black market into the light. But there are going to be fewer places to buy marijuana in San Diego County than you might expect – at least right away. Most cities will be hashing out regulations, or voting on ballot measures to force the issue, in 2018.

Marijuana delivery service supporters rally in front of San Diego City Hall. / Photo by Kinsee Morlan

Like it or not, recreational marijuana businesses can move forward in California on Jan. 1.

As it is, adults over the age of 21 can grow up to six plants at home and possess and transport up to an ounce. Business permits available after the New Year will help usher a black market into the light, despite marijuana remaining illegal under federal law.

But there are going to be fewer places to buy marijuana locally than you might expect – at least right away.

Though the majority of residents throughout San Diego County voted in favor of Proposition 64 in 2016, nearly all cities have delayed or prevented the cultivation, manufacturing, testing and sale of marijuana within their jurisdictions.

In the face of that resistance, a group of industry professionals and their local allies are circulating petitions that could force city officials to allow certain types of pot businesses. And in some cases, like Imperial Beach, the pressure appears to be working. Earlier this month, the threat of a citizens’ initiative loomed large above a public policy workshop.

Dallin Young / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

If Imperial Beach officials ultimately approve rules for local marijuana businesses, Dallin Young, executive director of the Association of Cannabis Professionals, said his group is prepared to drop its attempt to force a ballot measure there. In that case, residents – who voted overwhelmingly in favor of pot in 2016 – would be spared the cost of a special election.

“Our message throughout this entire time has been: If your City Council does the right thing, then we’ll back off,” Young said.

His group has it eyes on eight local cities, tapping residents to help with the signature-gathering process.

Even opponents of marijuana seem to agree that cities should do everything to avoid another showdown on the ballot. Chula Vista City Councilman Mike Diaz wrote in a VOSD op-ed that he’d prefer city leaders write their own rules – because, he reasoned, they’d do so “in a much more responsible way than the marijuana industry’s initiative.”

So far, San Diego is the only city in the county to allow recreational shops. On the other end of the spectrum is San Diego County: Supervisors gave a resounding “thou shalt not pass” to marijuana businesses in unincorporated communities.

Below is a list of the municipalities where the bulk of the action is going to take place in 2018. (The voting data comes from an analysis commissioned by the United Medical Marijuana Coalition.)

Carlsbad

Where Voters Stood on Prop. 64

56 percent voted yes

Current Status of Regulations

An ordinance that took effect at the end of October prohibits commercial and medical activity beyond what is guaranteed by Prop. 64. The only Democrat on the City Council, Cori Schumacher, said she wanted to see a rule allowing for medical cannabis deliveries because not everyone can drive to dispensaries, according to KPBS. She was the lone no vote on the new ordinance.

What’s Next

The ballot proposal would override the Council’s prohibitions, but the signature-gathering process has been temporarily halted. Young said Carlsbad has been a “heavier lift” than other cities, so there’s no guarantee that anything will come before voters.

Ballot Proposal

Would allow for retail, cultivation, manufacturing and distribution.

Chula Vista

Where Voters Stood on Prop. 64

51 percent voted yes

Current Status of Regulations

Like their counterparts in Imperial Beach, Chula Vista officials have held multiple hearings seeking feedback on what a local regulatory structure should entail. Despite the current moratorium on marijuana businesses, there has been an explosion of illegal retail shops. It’s forced law enforcement into a game of whack-a-mole.

At a recent public workshop, Mayor Mary Salas called for the “extreme vetting” of any future marijuana business applicants to weed out those who operated an illegal dispensary, according to the Union-Tribune. Councilman Stephen Padilla told residents at the same event that he feared a ballot measure pushed by industry professionals would be so vague that it wouldn’t guarantee a way to finance the city’s own enforcement efforts.

What’s Next

Young said his group has enough signatures to put a measure on the June 2018 ballot if officials don’t approve regulations on their own. The city could put an ordinance into place that the group finds unacceptable.

Ballot Proposal

Would allow for retail, cultivation, manufacturing and distribution in certain zones and under certain restrictions.

Encinitas

Where Voters Stood on Prop. 64

65 percent voted yes

Current Status of Regulations

The Encinitas City Council decided in October to keep its ban on all forms of marijuana in place. That means the city with the highest percentage of Prop. 64 supporters in San Diego County may not get much commercial activity in within its borders.

“Sixty-five percent of the people in Encinitas who voted in the last election voted to legalize recreational marijuana,” Mayor Catherine Blakespear told KPBS. “That doesn’t necessarily mean that they want a storefront in their downtown.”

What’s Next

A ballot measure is highly likely, but the industry professionals won’t necessarily be behind it. The City Council is open to allowing cannabis cultivation on existing agricultural lands but wants residents to make the final decision. Staff is working on a proposal that’ll need voter approval.

Ballot Proposal

Could allow for cultivation in certain zones and under certain restrictions.

Imperial Beach

Where Voters Stood on Prop. 64

62 percent voted yes

Current Status of Regulations

Back in February, officials adopted a one-year moratorium on all non-medical marijuana activities. That gives City Council members until early next year to present proposals for public review.

For nearly two hours on Dec. 11, residents gave officials their preferences on what those proposals should look like. Even the most strident opponents of Prop. 64 expressed concern over tying the city’s hands with a ballot measure. Several said they felt like their community was being blackmailed, but many conceded that some forms of commercial cannabis were inevitable.

What’s Next

Young said his group has enough signatures to bring a measure to the ballot if necessary.

Ballot Proposal

Would allow for retail and manufacturing in certain zones and under certain restrictions. It would also allow for lounges where people over 21 can buy and consume single-serving marijuana products between noon and midnight.

La Mesa

Where Voters Stood on Prop. 64

59 percent voted yes

Current Status of Regulations

Recreational businesses have been banned, but medical businesses that have been licensed by the state are able to make deliveries to patients. Although medical marijuana facilities were made legal through a ballot initiative in 2016, police have since been busy shutting down illegal operations.

In September, the City Council banned all types of marijuana activity on public properties.

What’s Next

Medical marijuana permits are still making their way through City Hall.

Lemon Grove

Where Voters Stood on Prop. 64

56 percent voted yes

Current Status of Regulations

When residents gave the green light to medical dispensaries in 2016, they did so on the condition that they be located 1,000 feet from schools, day cares and other sensitive places. That drastically reduced the number of available spots. As a result, some entrepreneurs began knocking on daycare doors, offering the owners money and other deals to relocate.

Complicating the situation is the fact that state law keeps the addresses of in-home day cares confidential to protect people’s privacy. A local dispensary passed the zoning clearance in September, and two others are under review, according to city staff.

In the meantime, police shut down an illegal operation.

What’s Next

City Clerk Susan Garcia disqualified the Association of Cannabis Professionals petition, arguing that signatures had been improperly gathered because the petition was missing half of the title provided by City Attorney James Lough. The ballot measure, he determined, would have eliminated a 1,000-foot buffer zone between medical marijuana dispensaries and daycare centers with 12 or fewer children.

Marijuana proponents challenged the city’s decision – they argued the missing parts of the title were the result of printing and typographical errors – but a San Diego County Superior Court judge sided with Lemon Grove.

Young said his group is still debating whether to circulate a new petition.

Ballot Proposal

The disqualified proposal would have allowed, at a minimum, for delivery to medical patients. It would have also limited the reasons for revoking a marijuana permit.

Oceanside

Where Voters Stood on Prop. 64

56 percent voted yes

Current Status of Regulations

The city allows medical deliveries but has no legal dispensaries. Some farmers, however, see commercial cultivation as a way to stay competitive by replacing strawberries and avocados, which are becoming increasingly expensive to produce.

What’s Next

City staff is expected to present the results of its research by the end of the year, giving Council members a better sense of where residents stand. Mayor Jim Wood’s decision to resign after suffering a stroke means the current Council is evenly split on whether marijuana should be commercially accessible in Oceanside.

Ballot Proposal

Would allow for retail, cultivation, testing and manufacturing in certain zones and under certain restrictions.

San Diego

Where Voters Stood on Prop. 64

61 percent voted yes

Current Status of Regulations

The city’s medical marijuana outlets will be eligible to sell to recreational users after the New Year, and the councilmembers agreed in September to allow commercial cultivation, manufacturing, distribution and testing – the entire supply chain, capped at 40 businesses in total. Officials are considering four per district, so long as they’re 1,000 feet from daycares, parks and other sensitive areas.

Voters in 2016 also approved a tax on farms, factories and dispensaries starting at five percent and rising to eight percent in July 2019.

What’s Next

California’s Bureau of Cannabis Control has already awarded two temporary licenses to Torrey Holistics in Sorrento Valley and Urbn Leaf in Bay Park. Both businesses still require the city’s greenlight. The licenses are good for four months and were awarded to pre-qualified businessowners without the normal $1,000 application fee and background check in order to prevent delays.

Expect entrepreneurs of varying types to come calling. At least one company is helping San Diegans ditch the middle man. Green Carpet Growing provides classes and in-home consultations for anyone interested in learning how to grow, trim, clone and re-pot on their own.

Santee

Where Voters Stood on Prop. 64

52 percent voted yes

Current Status of Regulations

Officials in this small city have been aggressively opposed to marijuana. In October, San Diego County Sheriff’s deputies lured a delivery-service company within city limits and arrested six people in a sting operation.

“We feel it is unfortunate that the Sheriff’s department chose to use its precious resources on marijuana delivery, while the death toll from pharmaceuticals, heroin and meth continue to scourge East County,” Elizabeth Wilhelm, president of the San Diego Cannabis Alliance, said in a statement, according to East County Magazine.

What’s Next

The Association of Cannabis Professionals has temporarily pulled a ballot measure in Santee, saying the signature-gathering process has been difficult.

Ballot Proposal

Would allow for retail, cultivation, manufacturing and distributed in certain zones and under certain restrictions.

Vista

Where Voters Stood on Prop. 64

56 voted yes

Current Status of Regulations

The city prohibits medical dispensaries but is considering delivery options. Officials also seem open to allowing quality-control testing laboratories within city limits.

What’s Next

Councilman Joe Green, pointed to Prop. 64 data in September to argue the city should allow dispensaries.

“We need to do exactly what our citizens want, and they have spoken loud and clear,” he said, according to the Union-Tribune.

The city, however, has decided to wait until at least January, when the state permitting system is formally off the ground, before resuming talks.

Ballot Proposal

Would allow for retail, cultivation and distribution in certain zones and under certain restrictions.

Unincorporated San Diego County

Where Voters Stood on Prop. 64

50 percent voted yes

Current Status of Regulations

Over the objections of the planning commission, the San Diego County Board of Supervisors voted in March to ban all marijuana businesses in unincorporated areas, forcing three dispensaries that were already operating – plus two more in the pipeline – to close by 2022.

In justifying the decision, Supervisor Dianne Jacob described Colorado – the first state to legalize recreational marijuana – as a “disaster.” She said she didn’t want the same harm to come to children here in unincorporated communities. (Colorado’s governor and attorney general contested similar complaints in an August letter to the Department of Justice.)

What’s Next

In response, several businessowners sued the county, arguing that officials were illegally taking away property. They complained that five years wouldn’t be long enough to recoup millions of dollars’ worth of investments. One businessman complained, according to the Union-Tribune, “We did everything we can to play by those rules. And now you’re changing the game on us.”

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