San Diego Pot Businesses Dodge Bullet, For Now

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The legal marijuana industry in San Diego, California avoided a complete ban on the commercial cultivation, processing, distribution, and testing of cannabis products this week, with a unanimous vote of the city council to direct city staff to study the issues further and report back within nine months.

An amendment to the land use laws for California’s second largest city in response to the passage of Prop. 64 last year, the proposal had seemingly been rushed before the council as a “direct docket” item, circumventing normal channels of committee and public review. The proposal also rejected a previous recommendation from the City Planning Commission to allow the business activities under discussion.

The hastiness of the action was evident, as council members struggled in front of packed council chambers to compose amendments concerning outdoor home cultivation and to request further study of the proposed bans. Councilmember David Alvarez, who supports a regulated cannabis industry, noted “…a lot of the issues being raised today could have been handled had we gone through a different process.” Council President Myrtle Cole, who is responsible for the council agenda, did not return a call by the end of day Wednesday to explain why the proposal was listed as a direct docket item.

Council chambers were filled to near capacity for the meeting, and more than an hour was dedicated to public comment.

San Diego City Council January 31, 2017

Those who spoke against the prohibitions outnumbered supporters of the ban by a ratio of six to one and had various reasons for their views. Many cited the need for a safe and legal local supply chain to fill the consumer demand of the San Diego market. Some noted that requiring marijuana outlets to source their products from outside the area would lead to an increase in traffic and pollution, and be contrary to the goals of the city’s internationally acclaimed Climate Action Plan that was passed by the city council in 2015.

Others stressed the importance of safe medicinal marijuana. Fabi Ramsey, a cancer survivor and medical marijuana patient, uses cannabis to treat the side effects of estrogen blockers she must take as part of her treatment. When asked why she was appearing before the council, she explained she wanted to make sure members understand the importance of the availability of safe medical marijuana for patients.

She added, “They’re worried about kids buying joints, but what they’re really doing is obstructing access.”

Greg Magdoff, founder and CEO of PharmLabs, a cannabis testing laboratory in the pot-friendly San Diego neighborhood of Ocean Beach, spoke before the council on the importance of testing to ensure the safety of cannabis products. When asked for comment after the council action, Magdoff said, “This is good for our business. Several council members expressed support for testing.”

How strong that support is for San Diego’s cannabis industry as a whole is yet to be determined. City staff were given nine months to return to the council with a modified proposal.

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