The San Diego County Board of Supervisors has banned all marijuana facilities in its unincorporated territories. On March 15, 2017, the board concluded that a total ban on cannabis sale, cultivation, and manufacturing locations would protect the health and safety of San Diego County residents. The ban affects only businesses operating in unincorporated areas—meaning outside of incorporated towns or municipalities. Businesses currently operating in these areas will have five years to shut their doors.
Since March of 2016, a temporary moratorium on new dispensaries has been in place. The temporary ban was justified by the county government’s need to determine how to regulate new dispensaries in way that addresses the concerns of many San Diego residents who fear that marijuana will negatively affect their communities.
An Uphill Battle for San Diego Cannabis Advocates and Businesses
To cannabis advocates, a ban on marijuana retailers would be an almost unimaginable step backwards. After almost 20 years of negotiating tense administrative and political hurdles, the first medical marijuana dispensary opened its doors in 2015. The process for opening a dispensary was complex, but at least it was possible.
In June of 2010, the Board of Supervisors approved an ordinance restricting medical marijuana dispensaries to parcels with M50, M52, M54, or M58 industrial zoning. Additionally, the dispensaries had to be at least 1,000 feet away from each other and churches, schools, public parks, or residential areas.
Then in 2013 the California Supreme Court ruled that cities were within their rights to ban medical marijuana dispensaries. In reaction to this new law, seventeen out of San Diego County’s eighteen incorporated cities with the exception of San Diego city banned dispensaries.
The first San Diego dispensary was approved in 2014 and opened in 2015. San Diego City ordinances allow for up to 36 dispensaries to operate within its territory, but there are now only a dozen or so dispensaries in San Diego city. Two dispensaries are situated within San Diego’s unincorporated territories.
Why the Step Backwards?
According to reports from a March 2016 County Board of Supervisors meeting, the initial 45-day moratorium on new dispensaries was largely a “kneejerk reaction” to a small but dedicated group of San Diego County residents who were strongly opposed to dispensaries being open in their community. Among their concerns was the myth that most medical marijuana sold in dispensaries falls into the hands of children.
The moratorium was meant to give the Board enough time to consider more measures to protect citizens concerned about a potential wave of reefer madness sweeping into their community. By April 2016, the Board had made no progress so they opted to extend the ban again by another 10 months. Among the zoning options they considered were:
- Requiring a 1,000-foot separation between dispensaries and residential parcels
- Increasing the 1,000-foot buffer requirement between dispensaries and sensitive zones such as schools and churches
- Requiring dispensaries to obtain a major use permit, which is subject to public review and increased enforcement
- Requiring security cameras and guards
- Limiting operating hours from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
The fears of San Diego’s anti-cannabis residents became even more tangible when California voters passed Proposition 64 in November 2016, which legalizes recreational marijuana. Ironically, this step forward for the cannabis movement in greater California has proven to be a setback for San Diego dispensaries, as it caused the Board of Supervisors to dig in its heels and implement a complete ban on all marijuana facilities in the County’s unincorporated areas in early 2017.
Help From an Experienced San Diego Marijuana Lawyer
At McElfresh Law, we are dedicated to supporting and defending the rights of marijuana business owners and consumers in the San Diego area. We are closely following the developments in the regulatory and legal landscape of the California cannabis industry to better serve our clients. If you want to learn more about the implications of local, state, and federal laws on your marijuana business, call us today at (858) 756-7107 for a consultation.
Free consultation for criminal defense cases only. Dispensaries/collectives consultation requires a fee.