San Diego Passes Restrictive Dispensary Regulations

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San Diego has finally paved the way for medical marijuana dispensaries, though it will cap the number of centers and implement strict location regulations.

The San Diego City Council voted 8-1 on Tuesday to recognize and regulate dispensaries by passing a set of zoning rules for the businesses. Under the rules, a total of 30 dispensaries can operate in the city.

A plan allowing for 131 dispensaries throughout the city limits was originally presented to the city council. That number was based on a study by the San Diego Association of Governments.

But the plan was amended to allow just 30 shops in a bid to limit the size of the industry. That will force many dispensaries to close. The city council estimates that more than 100 dispensaries currently operate  in the city.

The move to change San Diego’s medical marijuana laws comes after a turbulent period that saw hundreds of dispensaries open rapidly several years ago and then close just as quickly after the city began a crackdown in 2011. Some dispensaries reopened over the past year amid lax enforcement, but the industry is a fraction of its former size.

The new zoning rules limit dispensaries to commercial and industrial zones, and require them to be at least 1,000 feet from schools, playgrounds, libraries, childcare facilities, parks, churches and other dispensaries. And dispensaries will not be allowed to have a medical professional on-site.

Under a 2011 zoning plan, the city could have had up to 271 dispensaries. That law initially passed, however advocates who considered it too restrictive collected enough signatures to force the council to reconsider it.

Under the new law, prospective dispensary owners would also apply for a five-year conditional-use permit. That permit would also carry a fee of between $8,000 to $24,000.