San Diego approves first medical pot dispensary

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SAN DIEGO -- The first permit allowing for the operation of a medical marijuana dispensary in San Diego was approved Wednesday.

David Blair was granted a conditional use permit to open A Green Alternative in a 1,400-square-foot space at 2335 Roll Drive near Brown Field in Otay Mesa.

Blair said he was exciting to be the first applicant “through the system.''

"We will operate ethically and serve this community with the best intentions to help patients in need of medical grade cannabis," Chief Operating Officer of A Green Alternative Zachary Lazarus said."

But not everyone is convinced so easily.

Karla Bernal works at an insurance agency near the soon-to-be location of A Green Alternative and said the business complex is no place for marijuana sales.

Barnal said the area is a family-friendly place, not somewhere for people to pick up drugs.

"I don't think there will be safety. I think they should open in a hospital area. Those kinda' stores...not in a business area like this type of business or food establishments," she said.

Another nearby employee who works for a trucking company said he's unsure about the idea.

"If they do it in a legal and very controlled basis, I think its ok," Angel Billajarnier said.

"Our plans are to set the benchmark for others to follow by providing reliable safe access to patients in the city of San Diego who suffer from serious and, in many cases, debilitating illnesses,'' Blair said after Kenneth Teasley, a hearing officer for the city's Development Services Department, approved his application.

Despite the 1994 voter initiative that legalized medical marijuana outlets, some cities have banned them based on a state Supreme Court ruling that said they could.

In March, the City Council approved a set of restrictive zoning regulations that would allow up to four collectives in eight of nine City Council districts. Restrictions on distances between dispensaries and homes, schools, parks and churches preclude any from being in council President Todd Gloria's district, which includes downtown, Hillcrest and North Park.

“Doctor-recommended care should and now will be provided by licensed, regulated, taxpaying businesses run by responsible members of the community, not by dealers and pop-up dispensaries,'' said Dan Riffle, attorney for A Green Alternative.

People who turn to medical marijuana for comfort are eager for doors to open.

"I suffered from severe anxiety, depression and back pain, insomnia; and over the years, I was placed on several medications that made my symptoms worse," Irene Gomez said.

She said medical marijuana changed her life and allows her to live comfortably.

A Green Alternative is expected to be up and running sometime in the next couple months. The hearing officer's decision could be overturned by the Planning Commission, which has final say over the matter. An appeal must be filed within 10 days.

“We've seen a very thorough report from the city playing out all of the concerns folks have raised over the past couple months,'' Riffle said.

If pot shop operators violate state or city laws, their conditional use permit could be revoked, he said.

The city has been taking applications for permits since April. City officials are evaluating 38 of them.

A hearing for applicant who want to open a pot shop at 3990 Hicock is scheduled for Oct. 29, but city officials already recommended denying a permit because it is too close to Mission Bay -- a city park.

City officials considered all pot shops illegal until they started issuing the conditional use permits. The permit process, according to the Mayor's Office, could cost applicants up to about $100,000.

The first  marijuana dispensary considered legal by the county recently opened for business near Gillespie Field.

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