Commercial cannabis cultivation, testing and manufacturing was legalized in California’s second largest city Monday, September 11 with a 6-3 vote of the San Diego City Council. The move allows marijuana businesses located within city limits to apply for state licenses when they become available in 2018.

Two options were presented to the council by city staff. The first would have allowed only testing laboratories to legally operate in San Diego.

The second option also allowed testing, but it included added provisions for cultivation and manufacturing permits, to be capped at two per each of the nine city council districts. Under that plan, a maximum of 18 businesses would make up the local supply chain to serve a city of 1.4 million residents.

Option 1 was supported by Mayor Kevin Faulconer and the San Diego Police Department. Chief of Police Shelley Zimmerman appeared before the council and urged them to reject legalizing cultivation and manufacturing. Chief Zimmerman feared an increase in crime and police calls to areas allowing cannabis businesses.

Photo by A.J. Herrington

Public comments at the meeting took more than two hours, even with speakers being limited to one minute each. Several of those that appeared were against legalizing marijuana business, voicing concerns over how it might put youth and public safety at risk.

The majority, however, had come to support regulated cannabis business activity. Many wanted the council to also allow the home delivery of cannabis to consumers.

Council Member Chris Ward not only supported Option 2, but he also proposed the amendment that changed the number of permits allowed from two per district to a total of 40 citywide.

Acknowledging the concern expressed by fellow council members and the public, Ward was confident in the ability of the city to protect public safety. He cited several studies from Colorado and Washington that showed legalizing the adult use of marijuana in those states did not lead to an increase in crime or cannabis use by youth.

“I am particularly comfortable about moving forward, knowing that we can adequately address public safety and public health issues,” Ward said.

“I am particularly comfortable in respecting the interests of the voters and also trying to make sure that we have supply here that is carefully managed, that is actually grown here,” he added. “And I think that’s going to be an increase to our ability to keep neighborhoods safe.”

After the vote, members of the cannabis business community were happy the council had decided in their favor. Renny Bowden, who has purchased a property in San Diego and obtained a business tax certificate to operate a cultivation and manufacturing facility, is happy he can now continue the process to obtain a state license for the project.

“It is a very positive step in the right direction for the entire cannabis community is San Diego. Expanding the supply chain is the responsible and right thing to do,” Bowden said. “It means that we’re now going to keep the taxation in San Diego. We’re going to keep the job creation in San Diego.”

Citing legal rules that limited council action to subjects for which prior public notice had been given, Council President Myrtle Cole referred requests for regulations to address home delivery and labor peace agreements to a council committee review.

Additionally, Assistant City Attorney Mary Nuesca asked for more time to draft an odor control ordinance sought by Council Member David Alvarez.

“We definitely still need to do some work for our friends who are delivery services, but overall it’s looking really good, San Diego is heading in the right direction,” she said.

RELATED: San Diego MMJ Patients Share Their Stories
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