San Diego rushes to establish rules on marijuana cultivation

A new state law says cities with no medical marijuana cultivation rules by March 1 will permanently cede that authority to the state, but the deadline was a mistake.

A new state law says cities with no medical marijuana cultivation rules by March 1 will permanently cede that authority to the state, but the deadline was a mistake.

(Eduardo Contreras / San Diego Union-Tribune)

A new state law may prompt San Diego to regulate and allow cultivation of medical marijuana within city limits for the first time.

A memo issued last week by Deputy City Atty. Shannon Thomas describes ways the city could regulate growing marijuana, including creation of zoning regulations specific to the drug or simply allowing cultivation in all areas now zoned for agriculture.

The memo also says the city might need to impose a temporary moratorium on cultivation while exploring any new regulations.


Thomas said that a moratorium could help San Diego ensure that the new law, which went into effect Friday, doesn’t permanently take away the city’s latitude to regulate local cultivation.

The state’s new Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act aims to legitimize the industry nearly 20 years after California voters first approved the use of medical marijuana. It also paves the way for regulations in anticipation of state voters approving recreational use of marijuana next year.

The legislation requires mandatory product testing and gives reluctant jurisdictions new motivation to permit dispensaries and marijuana cultivation by allowing them to collect fees and levy taxes.

But a mistake in the act prompted the city attorney’s memo. The law says cities with no regulations in place by March 1 will permanently cede authority of cultivation to the state, but the author says that deadline was erroneously inserted.

It’s a mistake that is expected to be fixed soon, however. According to the League of California Cities and the California chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, lawmakers who spearheaded the legislation and Gov. Jerry Brown have agreed to amend the legislation.

But just in case, the league is advising cities without regulations already in place to quickly pass complete bans on cultivation to assert their authority over the state. Cities would retain the latitude to soften cultivation rules later.


“In an abundance of caution, we have been advising our member cities to enact cultivation ordinances — in this case a ban — to make sure they preserve their regulatory authority whether the cleanup bill goes through or not,” said Tim Cromartie, legislative representative for the league. “A ban is the quickest and cleanest way.”

The city attorney, however, recommended a moratorium instead of a ban. She said a moratorium, which would require approval by eight of the council’s nine members, is probably “the only way to meet the statutory deadline” of March 1. A ban would require only a majority vote of the council.

Thomas added that a moratorium would give the city time to consider cultivation legislation, which could be a complex and lengthy process.

Cromartie disagreed.

“We looked at whether a moratorium would suffice, and the answer from our attorneys came back ‘no,’” he said.

Dale Gieringer, director of California’s NORML chapter, said a benefit of the loophole is that it has prompted jurisdictions to explore cultivation regulations sooner than they might have.

“It’s good for cities and counties to get their ducks in a row,” he said.

Twitter: @UTDavidGarrick

Garrick writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.

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