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For years, medical marijuana patients and dispensary owners have been forced to occupy a netherworld, often operating in retail spaces in nondescript buildings throughout the city. State law allows dispensaries and their patients to be free from prosecution; federal law does not. Making it even more difficult, the City of San Diego has dragged its feet on establishing an ordinance that would allow collectives to operate.

Now, the city seems to be making some progress toward establishing an ordinance, thus determining where shops can open.

On December 5, the San Diego Planning Commission will discuss whether the city council should give final, clear guidelines on what constitutes a medical marijuana consumer collective and how they can operate. In addition, the commission will hear alternatives on where collectives can be located and what level of approval applicants must obtain.

"The amendments would define a medical marijuana consumer cooperative, and establish a process by which medical marijuana consumer cooperatives could be permitted," reads a November 19 public notice.

"The amendments would also establish the zones in which they would be allowed, as well as distance requirements from specified uses and other medical marijuana consumer cooperatives. The amendment is subject to City Council approval."

Patients and collective owners shouldn't hold their breath while waiting for a new ordinance; a revised set of guidelines is months away from being adopted. First, after the planning commission provides their recommendation, the item will head to the city council for approval or direction on any changes. Amendments to the municipal code will extend to the "local coastal program" as well, which means the California Coastal Commission will need to certify any land-use amendments.

"As such, the final decision on the amendments to the Medical Marijuana Consumer Cooperative Ordinance within the Coastal Zone and associated Local Coastal Program amendment will be with the California Coastal Commission. The City of San Diego must submit the amendments to the Municipal Code as an amendment for certification to the California Coastal Commission. The ordinance will not be effective within the Coastal Overlay Zone until the Coastal Commission unconditionally certifies the amendment."

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