City council OKs medical marijuana permit fee

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SAN DIEGO — The San Diego City Council voted 8-1 Tuesday in favor of a package of amendments to medical marijuana regulations that, among other things, establishes a minimum fee of nearly $1,100 for annual operating permits.

The amendments pertain to an ordinance that sets the terms under which dispensaries will conduct their business. The operating regulations differ from land-use restrictions, which determine the allowable locations for pot shops.

“I anticipate there will be more discussion and more changes down the road as San Diego experiences these operations actually open legally,” Councilwoman Marti Emerald said.

Among other things, the City Council wants the annual permit fee to equal the cost of inspections and other expenses needed to regulate the dispensaries. The city’s projected costs include the use of police officers to make background checks, fire personnel, zoning investigators, planners and City Treasury employees.

Dan Normandin of the city’s Development Services Department said the permit fee presented to the council was the smallest for a dispensary. Larger shops, with more employees and greater floor space, will face higher permit costs, he said.

Prospective owners of the medical marijuana facilities are currently going through a costly and time-consuming process to acquire another type of permit — a conditional use permit — which will allow them to open.

No legal dispensaries have opened within city limits — the application for the closest facility was submitted by a San Diego State University professor who wants to set up an establishment in Otay Mesa, near the Brown Field airport. Approval of his permit has been appealed. The city’s Planning Commission is scheduled to hold a hearing on the appeal Jan. 29.

Other proposed amendments call for operating permits to be revoked for noncompliance; require background checks of prospective permit holders and employees; encourage dispensary operators to label products for potency; and allow for testing of marijuana for the presence of pesticides, bacteria, mold or mildew.

Councilwoman Lorie Zapf cast the dissenting vote, calling the law vague on several fronts, including whether the city of the dispensary owner would pay for product testing.

While some City Council representatives and members of the public have expressed concern over the safety of edible forms of marijuana that will be available in the shops, no action on the issue was proposed today. The current regulation calls for dispensary operators to post a sign that says county health officials have no regulatory authority over edibles.

Recent court decisions have made regulating all the issue “a moving target,” Emerald said.

Once the legal dispensaries open, they’ll be limited to four per City Council district for a total of 36 within San Diego city limits. Numerous shops operating illegally have been shut down over the past year.

One legal dispensary operates on unincorporated county land near El Cajon.

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