On March 16 the four members of the San Diego County Board of Supervisors who were present voted to place a 45-day moratorium on new medical marijuana dispensaries in the county while setting an April 27 hearing date to address issues which have arisen with the county’s current medical marijuana ordinances.
“It’s going to take time to get this right and I believe we must pause to get this right,” said Supervisor Dave Roberts.
Roberts, Greg Cox, Dianne Jacob, and Bill Horn also directed county staff to provide potential modification measures. The amendments to be considered include changing the 1,000 foot separation requirement for a residential area from parcels with residential zoning to parcels with residential use, increasing the buffer distance from residences and other sensitive land sites, adding incorporated cities to the 1,000 foot separation requirement, requiring a Major Use Permit which would include public review, increased civil penalties for violators of the ordinance, and exploring increased enforcement.
“I think these storefronts have become a real problem,” said Supervisor Bill Horn.
In November 1996 the state’s voters passed Proposition 215, which allows the cultivation, possession, and use of marijuana for medicinal purposes. In June 2010 the San Diego County Board of Supervisors adopted regulations pertaining to medical marijuana dispensaries including amendments to the county’s Zoning Ordinance. Medical marijuana dispensaries are restricted to land with M50, M52, M54, or M58 industrial zoning and must be at least 1,000 feet away from each other, a church, a school, a public park, or a residential area. The county supervisors also approved a regulatory ordinance for licensing and operation requirements.
A medical marijuana dispensary, which meets County of San Diego zoning requirements does not require a discretionary permit but requires a building permit and other ministerial authorizations as well as a license. The content of signage cannot be regulated although dispensaries must conform to Zoning Ordinance signage regulations as well as parking requirements.
When the Board of Supervisors approved the zoning requirements for medical marijuana dispensaries in 2010, county staff estimated that between 15 and 20 dispensaries would open. The current estimate is 18 to 23 sites. Two licensed medical marijuana dispensaries currently operate in the unincorporated county: one in unincorporated El Cajon near the Gillespie Field airport and one in Ramona near Ramona Airport. Four additional dispensaries have been issued building permits: two in Ramona, one in unincorporated El Cajon, and one in Valley Center. Licenses but not building permits have been approved for an additional four facilities consisting of two in Lakeside, one in Ramona, and one in Julian.
The county currently has 15 unlicensed dispensary enforcement cases still open and has closed 42 cases since 2009, when the Board of Supervisors adopted an urgency ordinance which enacted a moratorium on all marijuana dispensaries six weeks after the county supervisors directed the county’s Chief Administrative Officer to work with County Counsel on the drafting of an amendment to the Zoning Ordinance which would prohibit illegal medical marijuana dispensaries from operating in the unincorporated portion of the county.
The licensing process revealed that the 1,000-foot separation from a residential area is from parcels with residential zoning rather than parcels with a residence. The dispensary authorized in Valley Center is more than 1,000 feet away from any residential-zoned land but within 1,000 feet of land with A70 Limited Agricultural zoning which allows residences. The proposed Julian dispensary is on one of four parcels along State Route 78 which were rezoned from agricultural to industrial with the residential use on those four parcels being grandfathered.
On January 22 the county’s Planning Commission heard a presentation on the current status of the ordinance but did not vote on a recommendation. Several county residents addressed their concerns during the public comment period of the February 3 Board of Supervisors meeting, and although the Board of Supervisors can not take action on a non- agenda item discussed during public comment Jacob directed county staff to return to the board with options which could address the concerns.
One option would have been an outright ban on medical marijuana facilities. The supervisors’ 2010 zoning regulations preceded a court decision that jurisdictions could ban dispensaries completely.
“I don’t think the ban, as good as it sounds, is going to resolve the issue before us today,” Roberts said. “We’ve got to find the most effective way to regulate these facilities.”
The ban would have grandfathered the two existing facilities and allowed other pending applications to be reviewed on a case-by-case basis with no new applications being accepted. The existing ShowGrow dispensary in Ramona is 1,107 square feet, and a ban would preclude ShowGrow’s plans to construct a fully enclosed cultivation facility on site which would encompass 10,000 to 12,000 square feet. “ShowGrow needs the ability to complete this process,” said legal counsel Gina Austin.
“We’ve been compliant,” said ShowGrow operations and compliance manager Charles Boldwyn. “We are very proud to provide that medicine to patients who are in need.”
The amendment option included the possibilities of changing the separation requirement from residential zones to residential use, increasing the separation buffer, and adding the 1,000-foot separation from incorporated cities. Adding the separation from incorporated cities would remove three potential sites. Changing the separation requirement to residential use would limit the number of dispensaries to a total of four sites. A separation buffer of one-quarter of a mile would allow for 11 to 16 sites, a half- mile buffer would make four to six sites available, and if a one-mile separation was selected only one site in Lakeside would meet the criteria.
Amending the County Code to increase civil penalties for violators was also one of the options, as was exploring additional enforcement tools. The options also included retaining the existing ordinance.
“The options that are in front of you are not mutually exclusive,” Austin said.
Sean Donahoe of the California Growers Association noted that the City of Oakland ordinance separates retail from cultivation or other supply. “There’s a difference in these activities and they would be located within discrete zones throughout the county,” he said.
The proposed Valley Center dispensary is on Nelson Way on the Valley Center-Escondido border. John Fox lives a block east of the proposed Nelson Way dispensary, which would also include a storage facility a block to the west of the dispensary. “Traffic will also be increased on Nelson Way,” he said.