San Diego Dispensaries Not Out of Woods Yet as Mayor Scrambles to Draft New MMJ Proposal

The San Diego medical cannabis industry breathed a huge sigh of relief – and popped open a few champagne bottles – earlier this month when Mayor Bob Filner directed local police to stop prosecuting dispensaries. Filner also vowed to introduce a new ordinance that would essentially allow medical marijuana centers (which are now technically illegal under local laws) to operate in the city under a new regulatory framework.

The mayor’s moves promised to revive the MMJ industry overnight, and some of the 200-plus dispensary owners who were forced to close down over the past year started making plans to reopen as soon as possible.

But not so fast.

The future of dispensaries in San Diego is still up in the air, and it will take at least a few weeks – and possibly much longer – for local officials to hammer out a workable solution that paves the way for medical cannabis centers to exist.

Several developments over the past few days have tempered expectations of a rapid revival:

– The San Diego City Council overruled the mayor, voting unanimously to direct local officials to continue prosecuting roughly a dozen cases against dispensary owners.

– In light of the council decision – and having examined the issue more closely – Filner reversed his position on ending the prosecutions, saying he now thinks they should continue until the city adopts a new MMJ ordinance. The mayor cited several unintended consequences to halting prosecutions before an ordinance is in place, including the possibility new dispensaries would launch overnight. “There are people thinking of opening up [a dispensary] that we really didn’t want to have happen until we have an ordinance,” Filner told San Diego City Beat. “We want to keep things at the status quo, but I want to have as minimal a time of status quo as we can.”

– The U.S. Attorney behind a severe crackdown on the city’s MMJ industry – which led to the closure of most dispensaries in San Diego – said she would keep up the pressure, despite recent comments that indicated she would ease up.

At this point, these appear to just be temporary setbacks. The mayor said he remains committed to crafting a new MMJ zoning ordinance and presenting it in the next few weeks, and he has the support of the city attorney and the council president.

So the long-term prospects still look good. It’s still unclear, however, what shape the ordinance will take and whether it will have enough support from all the interested parties. The cannabis industry successfully sunk a previous initiative that would have severely limited where dispensaries are allowed to operate. That move had unintended consequences though, as it left the industry without any type of regulations and the city/federal government ended up forcing most dispensaries to close anyway.

Photo Credit: Eric Fischer via Compfight cc