San Diego’s battered medical marijuana industry is poised for a comeback after two years of turmoil that decimated the dispensary landscape.
And locals can thank one individual in particular: the new mayor.
In a surprisingly strong show of support for the MMJ industry, Mayor Bob Filner – who was sworn in last month – told roughly 100 cannabis advocates Tuesday night that he would draft a measure allowing dispensaries to operate in San Diego. He also vowed to testify on behalf of dispensary owners facing prosecution, promised to speak with the police chief and encouraged cannabis advocates to lobby city council and reach out to the public.
Filner’s comments came during a meeting hosted by the local Americans for Safe Access chapter. You can watch the entire Q&A with the mayor here.
This is significant for several reasons:
#1. It could breathe life back into the city’s medical marijuana business community. More than 200 dispensaries (out of nearly 230) in San Diego shut down after the local U.S. Attorney’s Office threatened their landlords with prosecution and civil forfeiture, accusing the operations of violating federal drug laws. A judge also ruled that dispensaries are illegal under local zoning laws. The closures led to more than 1,000 job losses and the evaporation of MMJ business opportunities in California’s second-largest city. Many of these dispensaries could reopen – and new ones could launch – if the city changes course, which would help bolster the state’s medical marijuana industry.
#2. There’s no guarantee Filner will fulfill his promise, and he could face resistance from other city officials. But, at the very least, the mayor’s comments signal high-level support for the medical marijuana community and give the industry an influential ally. The mayor also seems willing to take on leaders of the campaign against dispensaries, including U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy and City Attorney Jan Goldsmith. Filner has backed the medical marijuana industry before, particularly when he was campaigning for mayor. But few observers expected such unequivocal support for dispensaries now that he’s in office.
#3. The mayor’s comments could help unite the industry, which suffered a huge loss last summer when it failed to gather enough signatures for a ballot proposal to regulate and tax dispensaries. The fractured MMJ community now has a chance to come together and craft workable regulations and rules covering cannabis centers.
As one would expect, current and former dispensary owners – as well as advocates and patients – are now extremely optimistic.
“The community came out of the packed meeting in a feeling of euphoria,” said James Slatic, chief executive officer of MedWest Distribution, a company that provides CO2 extracted products. “High fives were shared between the…activists and bankrupted former dispensary owners. Of course actions speak louder than words, but at least for the first time in a long, long time we felt like someone with the power to influence major policy change took the time to hear our message.”
Other highlights from the mayor’s talk:
– On the federal crackdown: “We have got to get them to back off. They should not be persecuting at this level when the state law allows it.”
– On the industry’s role in helping change the political landscape: “We gotta write the local ordinance, but you gotta help me both in the city council itself and (with) the general public…and you all have people who can speak on this. We’re gonna have to do it like a political campaign. You’re going to have to go to PTAs and rotary clubs and church groups.”
– On a dispensary owner in attendance who has cancer: “Maybe if we win this battle, you’ll win your battle too.”
So how long before San Diego has a workable ordinance in place and dispensaries start opening up again? The mayor indicated that it could take some time. But the industry could get some more immediate relief if Filner really is serious about helping out the MMJ community: City Attorney Jan Goldsmith said the mayor could stop the local crackdown on dispensaries in “30 seconds” by ordering officials to “cease and dismiss all enforcement actions” against the centers. If that happens, expect to see dispensaries popping up shortly after – ordinance or no ordinance.