SD OKs first legal pot shop

Otay Mesa dispensary approved by hearing officer; appeal still possible
By David Garrick10:20 A.M.OCT. 15, 2014Updated1:08 P.M.

DOWNTOWN SAN DIEGO — A group hoping to open San Diego’s first legal marijuana dispensary got a key approval Wednesday morning that could allow the proposed pot shop to open in Otay Mesa before the end of the year.

A city hearing officer declared that A Green Alternative satisfies all of the complex conditions included in a controversial city ordinance approved last winter.

Barring a possible appeal that would require a Planning Commission hearing next month, A Green Alternative will be the first legal dispensary to operate in the city since California voters approved the use of medical marijuana 18 years ago.

Attorneys for the dispensary said Wednesday was a great day for the city of San Diego and residents who need medical marijuana.

“The drama of the past with regard to whether marijuana is morally acceptable medicine or an appropriate form of treatment should be dead, at least within this city,” said attorney Lance Rogers, predicting the dispensary would open by Dec. 31. “This should no longer be a controversial issue — this is a land-use issue.”

The owner was identified as Dr. David Blair, who teaches business ethics at San Diego State University.

Several other legal dispensaries appear likely to open soon afterward in other parts of San Diego. City officials said Wednesday that similar hearings are scheduled, or could be scheduled soon, for possible dispensaries in Clairemont, Pacific Beach, Southeast San Diego and the Midway area near the Sports Arena.

A county-approved dispensary opened just outside El Cajon in late July. It’s the only legal dispensary operating in San Diego County, but more than 100 illegal pot shops continue to operate while authorities try to shut them down.

A maximum of 36 dispensaries are allowed under city rules, with a cap of four in each of the nine City Council districts.

But the total is expected to be far lower, with most of the 38 proposed dispensaries concentrated in the Midway area of council district No. 2 and the communities of Kearny Mesa and Mira Mesa in council district No. 6. No dispensaries have been proposed in districts 4, 5 or 9.

Two city residents raised concerns Wednesday about the Otay dispensary, which would be a nonprofit located in a 1,400-square-foot site on Roll Drive near the international border.

Judy Strang said the location was inappropriate because it would be near “family” food businesses and a Carl’s Jr. restaurant where many children eat each day.

“There are a lot of families with children coming and going,” she said.

Strang also questioned whether merchants in the area had been notified about the dispensary, which will be allowed to operate for five years once final approval is received. Edith Gutierrez, a city development project manager, said every tenant and land owner within 300 feet of the Otay site was notified by mail.

Barbara Gordon said it was premature to approve the dispensary with city officials still weighing a possible ban on the sale of marijuana edibles at pot shops. She also said dispensaries are dangerous.

“These are not benign businesses as some people have portrayed them,” Gordon said.

Several other speakers praised the proposed dispensary, citing marijuana’s medical benefits.

Irene Gomez credited the drug, which remains illegal under federal law, with ending severe problems she previously had with anxiety and depression.

Hearing Officer Kenneth Teasley approved the dispensary, explaining that his role was only to determine whether the application meets the city’s land-use criteria.

“There is nothing related to these that has to do with whether or not marijuana is medically good or bad, it’s strictly a locational issue,” he said.

Gutierrez said the Otay dispensary satisfies requirements that it be at least 100 feet away from residential property and at least 1,000 feet from schools, playgrounds, libraries, parks, churches and facilities focused on youth activities. She said restaurants, such as Carl’s Jr., are not on the list of prohibited nearby businesses.

The Otay Mesa Planning Group voted Sept. 17 to recommend approval of the dispensary.

An appeal of Wednesday’s approval must be filed within 10 business days, or by Oct. 30.

Twenty-three states, including California, allow the sale of medical marijuana. Two others — Colorado and Washington — allow the sale of recreational marijuana. (619) 269-8906 @UTDavidGarrick

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