After years of repressing legal medical pot with over-the-top dispensary raids and regulatory loopholes, the city of San Diego may be turning a corner as newly elected Mayor Bob Filner officially ordered the police chief, city attorney and Neighborhood Code Compliance Department to “stop the crackdown on marijuana dispensaries.”
Mayor Filner also intends to propose an ordinance to close a regulatory gap permitting dispensaries to be shut down on petty zoning violations. In 2011, City Attorney Jan Goldsmith used code enforcement lawsuits against 100-plus San Diego dispensaries, closing most of them. But Goldsmith already announced his office will comply with Mayor Filner's progressive new Medical pot policy.
Mayor Filner’s order keeps his campaign pledge to support medical marijuana and he's committed to ensuring patients have safe legal access, even lobbying Congress to change federal law. City Attorney Goldsmith said he'd drop pending cases against a dozen dispensaries but unfortunately the approximately 200 that closed cannot be reopened by the mayor.
San Diego's relationship with medical pot dispensaries has been stormy to the say the least. For a quick history lesson, we spoke with Eugene Davidovich, Chapter Coordinator for San Diego Americans for Safe Access. Davidovich said almost immediately after Prop 215 passed in 1996, a dispensary in Ocean Beach called Shelter From the Storm was opened by the late activist Steve McWilliams and was subsequently raided. The dispensary busts were unorganized until 2003 when new San Diego County DA Bonnie Dumanis took over and began coordinated raids against the dispensaries via the Narcotics Task Force (consisting of San Diego PD, SD County Sheriffs and headed by the DEA) that specifically targeted medical pot shops.
In the past decade, the NTF has conducted dispensary raids every six months (as recently as December 2012) and combined with the city attorney's code violation crackdown, San Diego went from 200 dispensaries to underground/delivery service only in less than a year. Now that the police chief has been told to stop participating in dispensary raids, it remains to be seen if NTF will continue raiding future dispensaries as just this week, Davidovich reports, dispensaries are reopening and advertising for public business after Mayor Filner’s order.
Davidovich did not attribute the systematic raids of San Diego dispensaries so much to the conservative presence of the U.S. Navy, but rather because San Diego is a border town to Mexico and the U.S Border Patrol has a zero tolerance for medical marijuana – patients with valid medicine are being busted and cited, even for miniscule amounts.
There is the possibility that the border agency’s disregard for medical pot will continue even with the city backing off of dispensaries, but overall this is the most encouraging sign for San Diego pot patients and providers in years.