By Terrie Best / San Diego ASA
The County Board of Supervisors met Wednesday to vote on staff recommendations to extend a moratorium against new medical marijuana activity in San Diego County. The 45 day moratorium was put in place on March 16 and was largely a knee-jerk reaction to a group of community members from Julian and Ramona. At the March meeting the Board instructed staff to come back with options including a ban on medical cannabis; enhanced enforcement and more zoning restrictions among other things. Instead, staff returned with a request for more time which was ultimately granted.
While the moratorium was extended to ten and a half months, the vote came with instructions to give consideration for those medical cannabis projects already in the building and permitting pipelines. The county currently has two permitted dispensing facilities and there are five more in various stages of completion. How far along the projects have gotten is a key issue to the community and the projects. There is a question of vested rights which entitles the completion of a project in the face of a moratorium if significant work has been done and a hardship is created by its stoppage. The county is evaluating the five projects’ vested rights in the face of potential lawsuits using the vested rights doctrine. Staff made assurances that they intend to move quickly to establish whether any of the five projects indeed had vested rights. There is no appeals process to this determination. The only remedy being law suits.
The Supervisors, in spite of their move to temporarily block citizens from participating in their six year old ordinance, did have some encouraging things to say. The first question to staff was from Dave Roberts who asked the million dollar: “Does our ordinance allow an applicant to cultivate without being a dispensary?” He later made the point that this would alleviate the neighborhood concerns about children buying cannabis. Dave Roberts seemed to have a good grasp on the benefits of uncoupling the agriculture aspects of the industry from the dispensing aspects and one would hope the communities of Ramona and Julian who testified in favor of the moratorium would agree. They will need convincing. One retirement-aged man came all the way from Ramona to point out that medical marijuana patients are driving past his house and he doesn’t like it. Another woman claimed 90% of all cannabis sold in dispensaries is diverted to children.
The Board reported ten citizens on the side of banning cannabis spoke and twenty-one from the cannabis community spoke. In a well placed error, one of our canna-moms, Allison Benavides was called to speak directly preceding the opponents she faces. Her story was a precursor to the misinformation and down-right cruelty coming from the women of the San Dieguito Alliance for Drug Free Youth, a county-funded group who uses their funds to victimize cannabis patients instead of teaching children good choices. Allison asserted to the Board that she is a medical social worker, her son has intractable epilepsy which she treats with cannabis. Her son’s doctor has confided that 50% of his epilepsy patients are now on cannabis therapy. Allison also runs a growing support group for parents of kids on cannabis therapy.
Among the speakers in favor of safe access was Adam Corlett, a 20 year old student who told the Board he also has untreatable epilepsy. With cannabis therapy he has had only one seizure in eleven months, down from two-eight seizures daily.
Vey Linville of San Diego Americans for Safe Access described the therapy that not only saved him from a double lung transplant but saved his life. Vey pleaded with the Board to not make him choose between suffocating and doing business with a drug dealer.
The cannabis community showed up for safe access Wednesday to engage in the political process. There is a harsh contrast to the way the county has treated cannabis patients and the way they are currently treating the wine industry in their districts. Among other concessions, the Board voted unanimously yesterday to relax the winery ordinance to allow for more “wine tasting room” space. This while they force cannabis project applicants to prove they have vested rights to complete what was already approved on their permits. The indulgence given to a recreational substance which has caused so much harm is a slap in the face to patients. The cannabis community looks forward to the same considerations from local government on regulating a medicinal herb that is crucial to the health of so many.
Finally, there was much discussion among the Board before they decided to extend the moratorium and prevent new cannabis activity for ten and a half months. It should be said that Dianne Jacob is salivating over a ban but Ron Roberts point blank told her he would not support one. Dave Roberts seemed to agree. Dave Roberts got applause when he said he knew of no other time when land use regulations were changed at the goal line and was applauded again when he asked what immediate threat to our welfare cannabis shops represent, the sound of crickets followed as he waited for an answer from staff.
Supervisor Cox came out strong for the industry. Citing moral and legal obligations, he wants to protect the projects which have complied and are currently attempting to be permitted. However he expressed concern for oversaturation in Ramona.
Jacob was pretty transparent over her desperation to put the whole thing off until after the June primaries. It was troubling to hear her say out of one side of her mouth, unlicensed collectives are a scourge and then tell patients there is plenty of safe access because of them.
Ron Roberts expressed concern over the length of the moratorium. He called for staff to provide a time line. Staff answered back that the options they were directed to return with will take eight to nine months and included options to ban or establish a Major Use Permit ordinance. Staff suggested a more narrow scope of direction. Ron Roberts pointed out there was no support for a ban on medical marijuana and it should be removed from the option list. Jacob agreed the motion should simply be to accept staff recommendations to extend the moratorium. Ron Roberts made a further clarifying point that staff should not waste time on an ordinance, such as a Major Use Permit, that will constitute an outright ban. The motion to accept staff’s recommendation to extend the moratorium passed unanimously.