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Two Years In & Still Only Eight Dispensaries in San Diego

San Diego Dispensary Cannabis Now Magazine
Photo by Gracie Malley


Two Years In & Still Only Eight Dispensaries in San Diego

Two years after the city of San Diego officially approved the legal sales of medical cannabis, there are only eight collectives open in the city.

With the San Diego/Tijuana regional area pushing a population of 5 million, it’s safe to say that many San Diegans likely purchase their cannabis off the black market.

In California, the difference between running a legal dispensary and an illegal operation could be something as petty as a case of missing paperwork. This is the reason that unpermitted dispensaries are plentiful in San Diego county.

A low ball estimate of medical marijuana patients in San Diego county is around 100,000 patients. With only eight locations for the nation’s eighth largest metropolis, that means 12,500 patients per dispensary, which translates to a long line.

Attorney Jessica McElfresh is representing three of the eight dispensaries.

“Every one is its own story,” McElfresh told the San Diego Union-Tribune in regards to challenges with the application process. “I think the reasons are pretty unsexy. I had hoped more dispensaries would be open by now, but this happens with these kinds of projects.”

Aspiring dispensary owners face unusual setbacks, such as landlords suddenly pulling the plug. Others just simply ran out of money from constant city permit changes. For instance, owners of a proposed dispensary on 8888 Clairmont Ave received city approval and signed a lease only to have the landlord back out at the last minute. They plan on suing the landlord for $3.2 million.

The city’s 1,000 foot zoning restriction makes it difficult to find a suitable location, however, entrepreneurs have discovered several loopholes. If a freeway, a wall or a topographical feature divides dispensaries from school or parks, they can work around zoning restrictions.

On Aug. 5, The San Diego Planning Commission approved the city’s 14th dispensary. Despite 14 approved dispensaries, only eight have made it through the tedious list of requirements. City regulations allow for a maximum of 36 dispensaries, with four in each of its council districts. In 2014, experts predicted only 20 of those 36 dispensaries would end up opening doors. That number has been dropped again to anywhere between 12 and 17 dispensaries.

San Diego is also moving forward with regulating the potential of recreational marijuana, an item on California’s ballot this November. The San Diego City Council voted 5-4 in favor of placing a ballot measure which would impose a tax on recreational marijuana sales, should the state legalize recreational marijuana. The measure would impose a five percent tax on recreational sales until 2019, when the rate would be increased to eight percent.

The United Medical Marijuana Coalition remains hopeful that the city can provide enough legal dispensaries to accommodate the city’s high number of patients.

Are you a medical marijuana patient in San Diego? Tell us about your ability to access your medicine.

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