City Officials Discuss Local Cannibis Regulation

In light of new state medical marijuana legislation, San Diego may explore the legalization of medical marijuana cultivation within city limits. On Dec. 28, Deputy City Attorney Shannon Thomas issued a memo to Mayor Kevin Faulconer and the City Council describing various ways in which the city could regulate marijuana cultivation.

The memo references the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act, which consists of three different pieces of legislation and was signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown on Oct. 9, 2015, taking effect on Jan. 1, 2016.

Director of Communications at the Office of the City Attorney Gerry Braun told the UCSD Guardian that these three pieces of legislation are the state’s efforts to clarify the initiative that legalized medical marijuana more than a decade ago.

“It was adopted by the voters and the state did nothing to try and help out the people in understanding how exactly it would be implemented by the local jurisdiction,” Braun said. 

Braun continued to explain that the legislature passed this set of bills last year in an attempt to create for marijuana what restrictions the state has for alcohol, such as requiring distribution licenses.

“As part of the effort to regulate the medical marijuana industry within California, the [legislature] established that the state would be the primary government entity responsible for licensing the growing of medical marijuana,” Braun said.

In the memo, Thomas describes the three Assembly Bills that make up the act. The most comprehensive of these is Assembly Bill 266, which provides for the licensing and regulation of medical marijuana by a newly created Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation within the Department of Consumer Affairs. In addition, the bill requires licensees to have all medical marijuana products tested before distribution.

The act also exempts qualified patients who do not engage in “commercial cannabis activity” from licensure requirements.

Another feature of the act is that it gives local jurisdictions, such as the City of San Diego, the opportunity to develop their own regulations.   However, as described in the memo, the act includes an unintended loophole, which says that local jurisdictions have a limited window of time in which they can claim responsibility for regulation.

Thomas’s memo recommends that if the City Council wishes to assert local authority over the issuing of marijuana cultivation licenses, it should adopt a moratorium by March 1, 2016. If the Council does not establish a law claiming local authority, it will lose this opportunity and the state licensing requirements will remain in effect in San Diego.

News of the memo and the act’s unintended loophole has received various reactions from members of the community. Director of California’s chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws Dale Gieringer told the San Diego Union-Tribune that a benefit of the loophole is that it has prompted jurisdictions to consider cultivation regulation sooner than they might have. 

While marijuana advocates welcome the prospect of legalizing and regulating cultivation in San Diego, opponents fear that legalization would benefit drug dealers. 

Scott Chipman of San Diegans for Safe Neighborhoods told the San Diego Union-Tribune that legalizing cultivation in San Diego would not eliminate illegal growing. 

“It will just be cake icing for drug dealers,” Chipman said. “Because now they will say the city has made it legal to grow marijuana in addition to making it legal to sell it.”