The city's approach to establish a medical marijuana ordinance is not only overly restrictive, it's illegal, says Los Angeles–based patient rights advocacy group, Union for Medical Marijuana Patients.
On April 29, the organization filed a complaint against the city for failing to review the environmental impacts created by relegating collectives to light industrial areas and capping the number of dispensaries located in each district. Doing so makes it harder on patients and the environment.
It's the last point that attorneys for the Union for Medical Marijuana Patients are focusing on.
From the lawsuit:
"According [a planning commission staff report], there are only 8,009.21 allowable acres for a cooperative to be located under the ordinance. However, the [report] notes that a 'significant number of potential cooperative locations would not be available' due to the assumptions used to perform the analysis….
“The table produced by SANDAG evidences that in some council districts (5, 9 and 3) it is not even possible to have four cooperatives. The end result is that there will be far fewer than 36 Cooperatives in the City (indeed, only 30 are even possible) and they will be concentrated in certain areas of the City (Council Districts 1, 6, 7 and 8). An inspection of the map produced by SANDAG clearly shows that cooperatives will be concentrated in certain areas of the City and patients will need to travel relatively far to visit them."
And since patients will be forced to search for open collectives, attorneys for the Union for Medical Marijuana Patients argue, the city broke the law by failing to review any potential impacts to the environment.
"The ordinance will unquestionably culminate in a physical change to the environment and the city was required to conduct an initial study to analyze these impacts before approval of the project. By adopting the ordinance, the city committed itself to a particular approach to regulating medical marijuana — an extremely restrictive approach that, among other things, requires thousands of patients to drive across the city to obtain their medicine because cooperatives are only allowed in certain limited places in the city, which will create traffic and air pollution. This additional travel not only may, but will, result in a direct change in the physical environment by increasing traffic and air pollutants."
James Shaw, executive director for Union for Medical Marijuana Patients, acknowledges the difficulty for city leaders to establish patient-friendly ordinances. "Naturally municipalities have a difficult time embracing medical marijuana regulations. Typically they range from an extreme ban to extreme restrictions. Our goal is to help in finding a middle ground, to promote sensible regulations."
To do so, Shaw's organization offers help to municipalities when drafting their laws. San Diego was no different. Shaw and his attorney Jamie Hall sent two letters to the city council, relaying their concern over the restrictive ordinance and the CEQA violations. The city council and city attorney failed to respond.
The letters weren't the only resource for the council to learn of the need for conducting proper environmental review. On February 14, two weeks before the ordinance passed, Hall was victorious in a lawsuit against Kern County for also failing to address CEQA issues when drafting their ordinance.
"This is about informed decision-making," says Shaw. "San Diego is a city that prides itself on thoughtful legislation. As is the case with any other land-use changes, city officials would have known to do some sort of analysis; they didn't for this ordinance and that's because it's related to medical marijuana."
Michael Giorgino from the city attorney's office emailed the following statement:
"San Diego’s Development Services Department’s Request for Council Action dated December 16, 2013 stated: 'The Medical Marijuana Consumer Cooperative Ordinance is not subject to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) pursuant to CEQA Guidelines Section 15060(c)(3), in that it is not a Project as defined by CEQA Guidelines Section 15378. Adoption of the ordinance does not have the potential for resulting in either a direct physical change in the environment, or a reasonably forseeable indirect physical change in the environment. Future projects subject to the ordinance will require a discretionary permit and CEQA review, and will be analyzed at the appropriate time in accordance with CEQA.” (emphasis added).