By: Eugene Davidovich, San Diego Americans for Safe Access
Listen to the NEW San Diego ASA News Brief and audio podcast of this report:
San Diego, CA – On Friday May 14th, 2010, the San Diego County Planning and Land Use Commission (DPLU) met for their regularly scheduled meeting. This time, instead of the typical land use discussions, the DPLU were faced with a very controversial and sensitive issue; regulating the zoning restrictions on medical marijuana collective facilities in the unincorporated areas of San Diego County.
Although the issue at hand was land use, the debate at the commission meeting surrounding the issue was filled with emotional testimony both for and against the use of medical cannabis. Despite the law, patients are still forced to defend there rights, even at the land use level, in order to facilitate safe access to their medicine.
In 1996, California voters passed proposition 215 ensuring the rights of seriously ill patients to obtain and use marijuana for medical purposes. In 2003 the California legislature passed Senate Bill 420 (SB420) which among other things established a statewide identification card program for medical marijuana patients. San Diego County stubbornly refused to implement both the initiative and the state wide legislative effort.
Not to be confused with San Diego City’s efforts; patients, concerned citizens, and advocates have been literally forced to drag their county officials, kicking and screaming, to legally regulate medical marijuana collectives.
Fourteen years later, after losing their battle to overturn the will of the voters at the highest court, the County decided to fight with a different approach. Instead of simply refusing to implement regulations to support the law, they now rely on the District Attorney (DA) to raid the currently operating facilities in order to scare others away from opening, and are now focusing on zoning out or banning these facilities via land use ordinances and the distribution of outdated and anecdotal propaganda about medical marijuana through their county funded prevention groups.
HARM, San Dieguito Alliance, and the North Coastal Prevention Coalition were out in full force at the commission meeting on Friday spewing reefer madness propaganda about the dangers of marijuana. It was obvious, as they talked about how the law has been misused and was only intended for terminal patients, the representatives of these groups had either failed to read the law themselves or are purposefully trying to confuse the issue.
Clearly stated, the law reads that medical marijuana is not just for the terminally ill. The original voter initiative says “Seriously ill Californians have the right to obtain and use marijuana for medical purposes where that medical use is deemed appropriate and has been recommended by a physician who has determined that the person's health would benefit from the use of marijuana in the treatment of cancer, anorexia, AIDS, chronic pain, spasticity, glaucoma, arthritis, migraine, or any other illness for which marijuana provides relief.”
When we focus solely on chronic pain for a moment, we find that the Department of Veterans Affairs tells us that 1 in 3 Americans “suffer from some kind of chronic pain in their lifetimes, and about one quarter of them are not able to do day to day activities because of their chronic pain” http://www.ptsd.va.gov/public/pages/pain-ptsd-guide-patients.asp yet cannabis is proven to treat chronic pain.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, San Diego County’s population as of July 2008 was over 3 million people which would make approximately 1 million people potentially eligible for the use of medical marijuana in San Diego County alone. The unincorporated areas comprise approximately 15% of the county’s population, which equates to over half a million people living in the unincorporated areas and at least 166,000 potential medical marijuana patients that would be affected directly by the policy recommended by this commission and the County.
The saga with the most recent proposed county ordinance officially began on March 3, when the county announced its inception on Twitter and on then on March 29, Edward Sifuentes of the San Diego North County Times called San Diego ASA for comment sending us a link to the document over email http://www.sdcounty.ca.gov/dplu/docs/POD_09-007_Medical_Marijuana.pdf
Until that call from the North County Times, only a small, private number of individuals were privy to the proposed ordinance. Immediately San Diego ASA sent it out to the community for input, evaluated and began to weigh in on the regulations proposed in the ordinance in collaboration with Kris Hermes with Americans for Safe Access (national).
Within days, Americans for Safe Access (ASA), and organizations such as the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), issued statements urging the county to immediately reconsider their position on this issue, to revise the ordinance, and extend the public input period. The ACLU outright threatened the county with a law suit if they adopt the ordinance as proposed. The county was even provided with lists of specific issues in their language that were most egregious violations of state law. Everyone was asking for more time for the community’s input.
No additional time was allowed. The proposed ordinance however, was slightly modified and a new staff report issued http://www.sdcounty.ca.gov/dplu/docs/PC/2010/100514-2.pdf. In yet another tactic to navigate around voters, the ordinance didn’t outright ban safe access to medical cannabis in the unincorporated areas of the county, this time it effectively zoned it out.
The May 14th DPLU meeting began with Project Manager Joseph Farace’s presentation of the latest staff report to the commission. The staff report focused heavily on the DEA’s negative self-serving rhetoric about medical marijuana holding very little substantive medical truth.
Mr Farace’s report and testimony to the commission went as far as saying “law enforcement agencies have documented serious and adverse impacts associated with dispensaries” He said “the communities and the media reported increased crime, including burglaries, robberies and violence.” However in his report he failed, to cite any legitimate documentation or reports to backup his claims. The only documentation he provided as proof was a non scientific opinion piece by the Police Chiefs Association; a lobbying group for law enforcement unions.
Several members of the public reminded Mr. Farace and the commission about the recent comments of Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck, where he told reporters, “Banks are more likely to get robbed than medical marijuana dispensaries" http://www.dailynews.com/news/ci_14206441
Also not found in Mr. Farace’s analysis of the issue was The City of Oakland’s law enforcement report of significant crime drops in that area where there are regulated dispensaries.
The report painted a scary picture of dispensaries. Portrayed them as dangerous, large scale grow operations which must operate far from the public, under extreme caution, and under most strict scrutiny of law enforcement, in order to ensure the public’s safety and welfare. The staff recommended that medical marijuana collective facilities be limited to industrial zoned properties and that they be required to maintain a 1000 foot separation from a laundry list of what they deemed as sensitive uses; schools, playgrounds, parks, churches, recreation centers, youth centers, and other collectives.
Mr. Farace, during his presentation, displayed several monitors and a large projection screen showing a zoning map of the county. This map, according to his math, displayed 15-20 potential sites where a facility might be located under the current recommendations.
There was testimony from over two dozen concerned citizens, attorneys, collective directors, and patients including a large turnout from San Diego ASA.
San Diego ASA members came armed with their own analysis of the supposed 15-20 potential sites. During public comment, Marcus Boyd and Eugene Davidovich on Mr. Farace’s large projection screen and monitors,and just to make sure everyone saw clearly, presented a large poster board of a map of San Diego County similar to Mr. Farace’s map, except SDASA’s analysis showed the 15-20 potential sites are a reality only if the 1000 foot residence distance is removed. If that distance, in combination with the 1000 foot from residential use requirement remains, there effectively would be perhaps twenty five square feet in the entire unincorporated area of the county where a collective could be located.
Later when pressed by the commission, it was apparent that Mr. Farace did not believe, himself, that even one collective would realistically be able to open under these proposed recommendations.
Testimony from members of the community and the presentation of the map by San Diego ASA helped persuade the commission to take a closer look at the accuracy of Mr. Farace’s staff report. The commission now sought to know if there were any other types of land uses where such regulations and distance requirements existed in the county land use regulations. Mr. Farace quickly pointed to adult entertainment, and said he used that ordinance as an example to craft this recommendation.
When pressed specifically for distance requirements of adult entertainment in the county, Mr. Farace admitted he didn’t know. The commission took a five minute break for Mr. Farace to check and upon his return, he confirmed that the adult entertainment ordinance was a little less restrictive, and that it required a 500 foot separation from residential use.
Upon hearing this confirmation, receiving a little more clarification from members of the community who spoke, including Boyd whom originally presented the SD ASA Zoning Map, the commission voted 5-0 that they, “recommend the Board of Supervisors approve staff recommendations, with conditions, on Medical Marijuana Facilities…Countywide. The action, including the conditions, recommends the Board of Supervisors change the County Zoning Ordinance to allow medical marijuana collectives to be sited in industrially-zoned areas of the unincorporated County no closer than 500 feet of residences; no closer than 600 feet of schools, churches and parks; and no closer than 1,000 feet of other medical marijuana facilities.” http://www.sdcounty.ca.gov/dplu/docs/Planning_Commission_Actions_5-14-10.pdf
On Friday, a few dedicated members of the community with their hard work, preparation, and dedication were successful in educating and then persuading the commission to recommend a less restrictive ordinance thereby following the law. This effort will affect many thousands of patients’ rights. Members of the community still have many concerns about the recommendations, and hope that the County Council will remove all the inconsistencies and unfounded overly restrictive language from the ordinance.
Wednesday, June 23 at the Planning and Land Use hearing, the San Diego County Board of Supervisors is scheduled to vote on the proposed ordinance. The meeting will start at 9am, 1600 Pacific Highway, Room 310
View videos of the commission meeting:
The County Planning Commission video clips are definitive proof that activism works and the efforts of individuals can effect enormous change! And our fight continues . . .
SD County Planning Commission (clip 1) MMJ Zoning Ordinance REVISED! 5/14/10 -
The San Diego County Planning Commission was presented with a revised medical marijuana dispensary zoning ordinance after activist were successful in pointing out inconsistencies and illegalities in the original ordinance attempt by the county staff. During this meeting activists were also successful in causing the county proposed zoning ordinance to be broadened from an imaginary 15-20 possible dispensary locations to an absolute 70 to 80 viable location options.
SD County Planning Commission (clip 2) MMJ Zoning Ordinance REVISED! 5/14/10 -
San Diego Americans for Safe Access (SDASA) board members Marcus Boyd and Eugene Davidovich effectively present a county map provided by SDASA member Kate Valentine to the Planning Commission. Surprisingly, the chairman grants SDASA additional time to present.
SD County Planning Commission (clip 3) MMJ Zoning Ordinance REVISED! 5/14/10 -
Discussions in this clip go into the existing non-conforming dispensary locations and the county staff answers to some of the many complaints regarding the ordinance process.
SD County Planning Commission (clip 4) MMJ Zoning Ordinance REVISED! 5/14/10 -
When size and square footage become a topic of discussion in the meeting, the county staff again goes "deer-in-the-headlights". Luckily activism works and activists were able to offer guidance to the supervisors where the county staff failed to do so.
SD County Planning Commission (clip 5) MMJ Zoning Ordinance REVISED! 5/14/10 -
This clip goes into the Conditional Use Permit issue and the size or square footage of dispensaries. The clip ends with a supervisor making a motion to accept the county staff's recommendations without any changes, and the motion is seconded.
SD County Planning Commission (clip 6) MMJ Zoning Ordinance REVISED! 5/14/10 -
This is the final clip for the Planning Commission meeting on 5/14/10. In this clip the county staff actually begins stuttering and scrambling when pressed by Commissioner Peder Norby to provide options for zoning. The clip ends with a win for the MMJ community! The commissioners voted unanimously to revise and relax the proposed ordinance.