San Diego council approves pot ordinance after years of debate

San Diego's law would allow a maximum of 32 dispensaries for a city of more than 1.3 million.
(Marco Ugarte / Associated Press)

SAN DIEGO -- After years of wrangling, delay and study, the City Council on Tuesday approved a zoning plan that will allow less than three dozen medical marijuana dispensaries within the city.

The plan will allow no more than four dispensaries in each council district.

With one of nine districts already off-limits because of the density of its housing, that would allow a maximum of 32 dispensaries for a city of more than 1.3 million.


The plan presented to the council, developed after months of meetings, would have allowed 131 dispensaries spread throughout the city, according to a study by the San Diego Assn. of Governments.

That would have been less than half of the 271 that the same agency said would have been possible under a 2011 zoning plan that was adopted and then rescinded that same year by the council when pot advocates mounted a petition campaign because they said it was too restrictive.

After the 2011 ordinance was rescinded, the city was left without a zoning ordinance that would allow for pot dispensaries.

Reviewing the proposed zoning plan, Councilwoman Lorie Zapf said it would bunch too many dispensaries in certain neighborhoods. She offered an amendment limiting to four the number of dispensaries in each district.

The plan, generally, only allows dispensaries in certain industrial and commercial locations.

The zoning plan, adopted in an 8-to-1 vote, says that dispensaries cannot be within 1,000 feet of schools, libraries, churches, parks, child-care facilities, and drug and alcohol rehab facilities. No marijuana vending machines will be allowed, and dispensaries cannot be close to residential areas.

By comparison, the 2011 ordinance would have kept dispensaries 600 feet from schools, parks and certain other areas.

The vote came after hours of emotional testimony by advocates and opponents.

Acting Mayor Todd Gloria said the plan strikes a balance between providing access to medical marijuana for patients and “safeguarding neighborhoods from negative impacts associated with dispensaries.” It includes provisions for the plan to be reviewed in coming years to determine if pot dispensaries have caused problems.

The zoning plan must be approved by the Coastal Commission, although city staff said they expected approval to be obtained within 90 days.

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