City council rejects medical marijuana shop appeal

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SAN DIEGO -- Tuesday afternoon members of the San Diego city council voted to deny an appeal set to stop the permitting for legal medical marijuana dispensaries within the city limits.

The council's unanimous action will allow the projects to move ahead in the application process for conditional use permits under rules that were adopted last year, but for various reasons, only a few of them are likely to be granted. City officials are sorting through 40 permit applications.

Last year, the city approved to have four dispensaries within each of the city districts.

Along the way, it deemed the project was exempt from provisions of the California Environmental Quality Act because any new, city approved marijuana shop would operate within an already approved retail space.

“This is a frivolous appellant,” said attorney Marianne Greene who is representing one of 11 dispensaries applying for a conditional use permit.  “CEQA pertains to where a land use may bring about a change in the environment … say harming species or harming a historical buildings or creating air pollution.”

No legal medical marijuana outlet has opened yet within city limits, while numerous shops operating illegally have been shut down. In processing the applications, officials with the city's Development Services Department found that CEQA regulations don't apply in the case of the dispensaries, since they'll only be making minor modifications to existing buildings. In a technicality, the appeals were only on the CEQA finding, not the conditional use permits themselves.

The affected applicants hope to operate shops at 7128 Miramar Road in Mira Mesa; 4645 De Soto St. in Pacific Beach; 3571 Pacific Highway in Middletown; in the Stockton neighborhood at 3433 Pickwick St. and 3385 Sunrise St.; and in the Midway District at 3486 Kurtz St., 3485 Noell St., 3225 Bean St., and 3421, 3430 and 3515 Hancock St.

Their permit applications will now go to a city hearing officer, who will decide whether to approve the projects. They face numerous roadblocks, however, including a rule that caps dispensaries to four per council district --and six applicants desire locations in the Midway area. Additionally, dispensaries are not allowed to operate within 1,000 feet of each other.

"I have approximately 18 applications in council District 2, and you're correct, only four will be approved,'' Edith Gutierrez, who is overseeing the permitting process for the city's Development Services Department, told Councilman Todd Gloria, who represents the area. "So a lot of these (permits) today will never get approved, because applications ahead of them, (if) they do get approved, it will cancel their application out.''

She said an applicant whose CEQA exemption was not appealed is further along in the process, and if that permit is approved, five of the ones addressed today will be out of luck because they would be within 1,000 feet.

Lawyers for a couple of the applicants contended that most of the appeals were filed by competitors who wanted to move ahead in the line for permits, which Gloria called a "fair point'' that should be addressed.

However, the only one to file an appeal who actually spoke to the council was Pacific Beach community activist Scott Chipman, who opposes medical marijuana.

"Pot shops are not the kind of businesses we need in San Diego,'' Chipman said. "They attract crime, (and) send the wrong messages to our children. We need to be considering San Diego as a family-friendly tourist, not a drug tourist, destination.''

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