SAN DIEGO — Officials in San Diego are discussing a plan to repeal municipal regulations prohibiting cannabis businesses from setting up shop near churches, parks, libraries, and playgrounds.
The proposal, led by City Council Stephen Whitburn, would nearly double its dispensary population and expand them to new communities such as Rancho Bernardo.
In December, the Planning Commission and the council’s Land Use Committee postponed deliberations on the plan until February to provide city officials time to review comments from citizens and community representatives.
However, members of both committees indicated that they are receptive to considerably easing local regulations controlling dispensary locations that have been in effect since 2014.
“I don’t have a reflexive opposition to creating a more nuanced approach to where cannabis businesses operate,” says Council President Elo-Rivera
The Public’s Opinion On The Proposal
Critics argue that the idea will ruin communities and increase the likelihood of teenagers misusing cannabis. Additionally, they claim that the process was hurried and did not involve input from people impacted the most.
Supporters argue that the measure will enable San Diego to address restrictive regulations that have stopped the city from launching the 36 dispensaries it projected almost eight years ago when the businesses became legal.
San Diego now has 23 dispensaries instead of 36 due to licensing requirements and limitations barring dispensaries from expanding within 1,000 feet of a lengthy list of “sensitive uses.”
Schools, daycare centers, and establishments geared toward minors, such as Boys and Girls Clubs, would remain on the list of sensitive uses. Churches, parks, libraries, and playgrounds, on the other hand, would be taken off the list.
Additionally, the plan would reduce the distance between a dispensary and a sensitive use from 1,000 to 600 feet, substantially easing the requirements. However, it would restrict the guidelines slightly by altering the method such distances are figured.
Additionally, dispensaries would be permitted to extend operating hours. Instead of operating between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. every day, they may run between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m.
According to Councilmember Whitburn, a compelling reason for the revisions is that they would bring San Diego compliance with the state law.
“We represent a city that is at the forefront of many issues,” says Whitburn .”And unfortunately, that is not the case with our cannabis policy.”
Imposing Of The New Plan As A Community Concern
As per critics, the cannabis legislation was drafted just to allow cities to implement stricter limitations that align with community priorities and the specific issues that each city encounters.
Supporters of the proposal argue that it is overdue, pointing out that despite cannabis’ legal status, multiple San Diego localities have restricted its access.
San Diego’s 2014 policy allows for a maximum of four shops in each of the city’s nine council districts.
Districts 1, 2, 6, 7, and 8 have reached the limit, but due to restrictions, District 4 has one dispensary and District 5 does not have any.
Additionally, supporters point out that San Diego is one of the few cities in California that consider churches to be a “sensitive use.”
People opposed to cannabis legalization argue that the new laws would follow a pattern of local leaders relaxing prohibitions.
After 2014, the city adjusted at least three times to expand dispensaries by loosening the concept of minor-oriented establishment, redefining what a park is, and altering the way distances are measured.
“Every single change in the code has been to benefit the industry,” says San Diegans for Safe Neighborhoods President Scott Chipman. “And to reduce the protections of the public.”
Industry officials claim they are uncertain if the plan for sensitive uses is the best course of action.
Phil Rath, leader of the United Medical Marijuana Coalition, says the proposal was a bold move, stating, “We want to fit in neighborhoods, not be viewed hostilely.”
The Planning Commission will reconsider the plan on February 3, once city officials garner comments from the Community Planners Committee, an organization of community leaders.