The San Diego County Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 Jan. 25 to direct county staff to return to the supervisors with an ordinance banning marijuana dispensaries in unincorporated San Diego County.
Dianne Jacob, Kristin Gaspar, and Bill Horn voted in favor of a complete ban on both medical marijuana dispensaries and recreational dispensaries, including cultivation-only facilities and existing facilities which will be given a five-year amortization period. Greg Cox and Ron Roberts voted against the motion to ban the dispensaries.
“I don’t believe that San Diego County can afford to intensity our situation in any way,” Gaspar said.
“I don’t think we need to put in more storefronts,” Horn said.
“I do not want to see San Diego County become the capital of cultivation or dispensing marijuana of any kind,” Jacob said. “If there is a medical use for it then the dispensaries should be drug stores and it should go through the process for any other drugs.”
In November 1996, the state’s voters passed Proposition 215, which allows for the cultivation, possession, and use of marijuana for medicinal purposes. In June 2010, the Board of Supervisors adopted regulations to the county’s Zoning Ordinance to address medical marijuana dispensaries while also approving a regulatory ordinance for licensing and operating requirements.
Medical marijuana dispensaries are restricted to parcels 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 supervisors’ 2010 zoning stipulations preceded a court decision that jurisdictions could ban dispensaries completely. Seventeen of the county’s 18 incorporated cities have enacted bans on dispensaries with the City of San Diego being the exception. Gaspar was the mayor of Encinitas prior to defeating incumbent Dave Roberts in the November 2016 Board of Supervisors election and noted that San Diego is the only city in her Third Supervisorial District which has not banned dispensaries.
“A large part of my job is to listen to the constituents of my cities,” said Gaspar.
The licensing process revealed that the 1,000-foot separation from a residential area is from parcels with residential zoning rather than properties with residential use.
In March 2016, the Board of Supervisors placed a 45-day moratorium on new dispensaries while directing county staff to provide potential modification measures, including changing the 1,000-foot separation requirement 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.
In April 2016, the county supervisors voted 5-0 to extend the moratorium by an additional 10 months and 15 days while confirming the direction to staff to provide potential modifications. The moratorium allowed existing applications to move forward and be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.
The case-by-case review of existing applications determined whether substantial work had taken place for the project to be vested. Two licensed dispensaries currently operate in the unincorporated county: one in unincorporated El Cajon near the Gillespie Field airport, and one in Ramona near Ramona Airport.
“From a law enforcement standpoint it doesn’t present any problem,” Cox said of the existing dispensaries.
Four additional dispensaries have been issued building permits: two in Ramona, one in unincorporated El Cajon, and one on Nelson Way on the Valley Center-Escondido border and within the Valley Center Community Planning Area.
Licenses but not building permits have been approved for four additional
facilities consisting of two in the Flinn Springs area of Lakeside, one in Ramona, and one in Julian. The two Ramona facilities which had been issued building permits were deemed vested along with the Nelson Way dispensary while vesting was denied for the El Cajon application and for the four proposed dispensaries with licenses but not building permits.
The potential modifications were discussed by the county’s Planning Commission Nov. 4. A 6-0 vote with Doug Barnhart absent recommended a limit of four dispensaries in any supervisorial district and two in any Community Planning Area, a requirement for a Minor Use Permit, increasing the minimum purchase age from 18 to 21, limiting dispensary hours to between 10 a.m. and 8:00 p.m., requiring security cameras and security guards, and increased fine amounts for repeat violators.
The recommendation retained the 1,000-foot buffer from sensitive areas and did not separate sales from cultivation.
(Both a Major Use Permit and a Minor Use Permit require public review and environmental documentation, although a dispensary in an industrial area would likely only require a Mitigated Negative Declaration rather than an Environmental Impact Report. A Minor Use Permit application is heard by the county’s Zoning Administrator, and the decision can be appealed to the Planning Commission. A Major Use Permit request is placed on a Planning Commission agenda and can be appealed to the Board of Supervisors.)
“We crafted our recommendation pragmatically,” Planning Commissioner Bryan Woods said at the Jan. 25 Board of Supervisors hearing. “The commissioners felt that we crafted a fair and pragmatic compromise.”
“Staff has done a great job throwing together the results of a very complicated process over the years,” said consultant Jim Whalen. “They also deserve praise for coordinating with local jurisdictions.”
On Nov. 8, California’s voters approved Proposition 64, which legalized the recreational use of marijuana. Although Proposition 64 prohibits local governments from banning the transportation of marijuana on roads within their jurisdiction, city or county governments can still regulate sales facilities.
“The new laws continue to protect local land use,” said county Department of Planning and Development Services program manager Joe Farace.
The Planning Commission recommendation was based on a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the Ramona Community Planning Group (which approved that MOU on a 10-2 vote the night before the Planning Commission hearing) and the San Diego County Trade Association of Medical Marijuana Collectives.
Chris Brown, who represented the San Diego County Trade Association of Medical Marijuana Collectives at the Board of Supervisors hearing, noted that the MOU balances the interests of the industry with the concerns of the community.
“I believe we have met all those objectives,” Brown said. “This was worked out by the affected parties with no involvement by the county.”
The proposed action of the MOU was referred to as Option 8 during the Planning Commission hearing and the subsequent Board of Supervisors
“It shows the consensus between community groups, businesses, and staff,” said Jim Mumford, who has lived in San Diego County since the 1960s.
The MOU did not address the proposed Major Use Permit requirement, nor did it address an increase in the buffer zone distance or the difference between sales and cultivation.
“I think it’s a reasonable approach,” Cox said.
Horn cited community sentiment in the closure of an illegally-operating Fallbrook shop.
“We had a dispensary there and closed it down just because of community support for getting rid of it,” he said.
The public speakers addressed cultivation as well as dispensaries.
“We’re only asking to be able to grow medical cannabis,” said Southern California Responsible Growers Council chair Anthony Wagner.
Wagner told the supervisors that approximately 3,300 illicit marijuana farms exist. “We want to help end trespass grows on public lands,” he said.
“San Diego County farmers must remain competitive,” Wagner said. “Local farmers need the opportunity to diversify their crop portfolios.”
Wagner noted that his organization was willing to settle for a maximum
of 5,000 square feet of cultivation per farm. “We’re not asking for fields of cannabis,” he said.
Wagner’s statistics included average water use per acre of 41 gallons for cannabis and 74 gallons for avocados, and he noted that for a 5,000 square foot greenhouse, the cost for light-emitting diode illumination was approximately $1,650 annually.
“The business model I have in mind is a strict business-to-business model,” said Southern California Responsible Growers Council president Micah Anderson. “We want to work with you to get conditions that will allow commercial farming operations to be profitable.”
The San Diego County Farm Bureau has not taken a position on dispensaries or cultivation.
“We’re still developing our own position on commercial cannabis production and cultivation,” said Farm Bureau executive director Eric Larson. “We’re merely asking that you be open to future consideration.”
Borden Ranches is located in Pauma Valley. “We are committed to farming and we hope to keep doing it, but it becomes increasingly challenging,” said Scott Borden. “If the drought continues we will stop farming.”
Joel Weisberger has a five-acre property in Fallbrook with less than 120 square feet of that (which maintains permit exemption compliance requirements) used to grow medical marijuana. “Many people are wondering how they’re going to keep their small farms alive without having an economically viable crop,” Weisberger said.
Weisberger noted that cooperatives as well as dispensaries provide medical
marijuana to patients. “There is a huge demand for medical marijuana in San
Diego County,” he said.
Ramona resident Brian Higuera has a three-year-old daughter with Schinzel-Giedion syndrome who is treated with cannabis oil. “They’re not allowed to sell cannabis edibles and oil is considered an edible,” Higuera said.
Higuera travels to Los Angeles County to obtain cannabis oil for his
daughter. “I wish we didn’t have to deal with all this as a parent,” he said.
Jacob noted that her opposition included cultivation. “This is not a desirable use of our land,” she said. “Grow grapes. They take a lot less water than marijuana or avocados.”