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California Cannabis Coalition plans to preemptively strike against city pot ordinance

medical marijuana san diego Medical-marijuana advocates are aiming to pull a Walmart. That is, they want to collect enough signatures to avoid what they describe as a de facto ban.

When the San Diego City Council passed an ordinance that could have threatened the development of new supercenter stores, Walmart fought back with a signature drive to give San Diegans the chance to vote on it. Faced with a special election, the council backed down and repealed the ordinance on Tuesday.

At a meeting of the California Cannabis Coalition on Monday, attorney Jessica McElfresh said the San Diego Planning Commission’s decision last week to approve a restrictive ordinance came months faster than anticipated. Marijuana collectives and patients’ best hope, she said, is to pursue a ballot initiative—one that she co-wrote—that would enact the more flexible recommendations of the San Diego Medical Marijuana Task Force.

The initiative, filed with the City Clerk in December, is titled “Citizens for Safe Access Ordinance,” and the coalition is establishing a political action committee, San Diegans for Patients’ Rights. They need 62,000 valid signatures to qualify for the ballot.

By putting it on the next ballot—as early as June if Gov. Jerry Brown gets his way—the coalition hopes to pressure the City Council to reject the Planning Commission’s ordinance the same way Walmart did. If the council passes the restrictive ordinance anyway, the initiative would serve to repeal and replace it.

The Planning Commission’s ordinance contains 1,000foot distance restrictions from everything from parks to universities, the limitation of collectives to a few industrial and commercial zones and a stringent permit requirement. With these rules, McElfresh expects only five or so dispensaries will exist within the city limits. Her proposed initiative contains 500- and 600-foot restrictions and allows for dispensaries in all industrial and commercial zones. This, she says, will more or less maintain the status quo.

San Diegans may yet vote on a big-box ordinance. But this time it would be big-box dispensaries.

The Planning Commission’s ordinance would cut the number of collectives in San Diego, but it would have little impact on the number of medical-marijuana consumers. As a result, San Diegans may be faced with an oligopoly of large collectives. Oakland, as a precedent, has a small number of dispensaries, but among them are the 48,000-member Harborside Health Center and the franchise weGrow, which is often referred to as the “Walmart of Weed.”

“We have a very broad range of collectives in San Diego of size, philosophy, ways of taking care of patient members, and that’s good, because we have all types of qualified patients,” McElfresh says.

Tony Manolatos, spokesperson for City Councilmember Kevin Faulconer, who takes credit for initiating the Planning Commission’s ordinance, says the city will cross that bridge when it comes.

“If this all moves forward, there could be a very busy medical-marijuana dispensary in an industrial area,” Manolatos says. “Is that ideal? It’s better than having a dozen of them in neighborhoods. We’re trying to strike a balance.”

By Dave Maass

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