“At least three have opened in Pacific Beach, and it’s not just there but all over San Diego,” said Tony Franco, broker at Income Property Investors, Inc. covering Point Loma to La Jolla.
A commercial Realtor for a decade along the waterfront, Franco said he has recently noticed a distinct uptick in demand for dispensary locations after a long lull. Full disclosure: Franco writes occasional columns on commercial real estate for the Beach & Bay Press.
“In 2009 there were several places for rent for marijuana dispensaries through commercial real-estate leasing,” he said. “That all died down in 2011-12.”
What killed dispensaries then is what Franco refers to as the “three-headed monster” — the IRS, political attacks on their legality and a law enforcement crackdown by San Diego U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy.
“Dispensaries were attacked from different angles, such as law enforcement seizing landlord’s property,” Franco said, adding that now, with a new, more favorable mayoral administration, the political climate has changed.
“[Mayor Bob] Filner has voiced a pro-[medical marijuana] opinion, which has led dispensaries to be brave again and start opening up retail shops with landlords that are liberal-minded enough to permit them,” Franco said. “Now in 2013, my phone is ringing again with inquiries from operators that want to open up a [dispensary] business.”
Franco thinks that, if done right, the return of dispensaries could be positive.
“If we legitimize these businesses and do proper permitting with construction upgrades, they could be profitable businesses, employ people and be good for the economy,” he said.
Members of beachfront planning groups, like those in Pacific Beach and Bird Rock, which have watched medical marijuana dispensaries emerge in those areas before, have mixed feelings about their return.
“The position of the Bird Rock Community Council has not changed. We are against the location of marijuana dispensaries in our neighborhood,” said advisory group chair Jacqueline Bell.
Public opinion over the dispensary issue is not nearly as clear in Pacific Beach. Brian Curry, chairman of the Pacific Beach Planning Group, said the community remains divided over the issue.
“I’ve entertained many inquiries from PB residents who are very concerned about the proliferation of dispensaries, who felt that they were not necessarily for sick people that need marijuana to treat their illnesses but for recreational use, which is a problem and an issue,” Curry said. “But there are also some in Pacific Beach who were supportive of them before, think they’re great and are amicable about the possibility of them returning.”
Curry said Pacific Beach planners have not taken a position for or against dispensaries, adding that board members themselves have mixed feelings on the issue. Curry said the planning group has adopted a wait-and-see attitude toward dispensaries.
“There’s probably a reasonable — and rational — way to handle this,” he said. “Hopefully, the mayor and the City Council will figure it out.”
Filner, a medical marijuana proponent, said recently that dispensaries, at present, are not legally permissible in any land-use zones anywhere in the city, and that any that have opened have done so illegally.
“In January, the mayor committed to preserving the status quo regarding it being illegal to site medical marijuana dispensaries in the city of San Diego until the time the City Council adopts a new ordinance,” said Lee Burdick, director of special projects and legal affairs in Filner’s office. “At the same time, [the City Council] asked the mayor to provide them with information, including mapping where medical marijuana dispensaries might be located. They asked for additional cost data regarding licensing, permitting and law enforcement. We are in the process of developing that information, and we hope to return back to the council with that information in the next weeks, at which point the council will decide how to follow up with the community planning groups.”
The questionable legality of dispensaries could be cleared up with a new draft land-use Medical Marijuana Consumer Cooperative Ordinance released recently by the city for public review.
In October 2009, the City Council voted to establish a Medical Marijuana Task Force. In March 2011, the council voted 5-1 to approve an ordinance allowing medical marijuana dispensaries in designated zones. However, in September 2011 the council voted 7-1 to rescind the ordinance.
But the city is back for a second bite out of the apple. The council on April 22 directed the city attorney to draft a new medical marijuana ordinance using the previously adopted 2011 ordinance as a template.
Medical marijuana dispensaries would not be allowed within 1,000 feet of public parks, churches, schools, child-care centers, playgrounds, city libraries, minor-oriented facilities or other dispensaries.
The newly revised ordinance would add a 100-foot buffer between dispensaries and residential zones, and also prohibit them within 1,000 feet of sensitive “uses” like drug and alcohol rehabilitation centers.
Under the new ordinance, Filner would identify those city departments responsible for issuing permits and developing fee structures for dispensaries. He would also be required to provide a list of community planning groups to be contacted for input on the new land-use dispensary ordinance, as well as providing an analysis of potential zoning impacts, including square footage of use allowed, within each council district.
“Marijuana dispensaries and collectives are illegal in the city of San Diego for two reasons,” said Golsmith in a written statement. “First, they are a criminal enterprise under federal laws. Second, there is no zoning in the city of San Diego which allows them to exist anywhere. The lack of zoning can be changed by ordinance. Our office drafted an ordinance at the request of the City Council and delivered it to the Mayor and City Council on May 13. The actual adoption of any ordinance regarding marijuana dispensaries is a policy question for the Mayor and City Council to pursue as they see fit.”
Several medical marijuana dispensaries and landlords leasing the buildings to them did not reply to repeated attempts to contact them for this article.