Posted on: Jun 29, 2014By Michael Cindrich

Emerging Medical Marijuana Dispensary Regulations for San Diego County

The city of San Diego is moving forward with an ordinance to restructure the way medical marijuana dispensaries operate within the city. The ordinance, which was approved 8-1 early this year by City Council, sets up new guidelines for operating a medical marijuana dispensary in San Diego. Recent developments in medical marijuana regulation on both the federal and state level have created some new hurdles for dispensary owners to jump over.


How Many Medical Marijuana Dispensaries Operate in San Diego?

Currently, according to a search on Weedmaps, there are almost 300 collectives/cooperatives operating in San Diego, both storefronts and delivery services. This number is likely to be drastically reduced by the end of the year if new zoning coming into effect is enforced.

The new zoning ordinance allows for approximately 30 dispensaries scattered about the city. This is partially due to the location requirements of the ordinance in addition to the cap of four medical marijuana dispensaries per each of the city’s nine council districts. This move was intended to provide easy access to medical marijuana for residents of of the districts. In reality, the zoning is much more restrictive, and could limit access for the majority of medical marijuana patients in San Diego. Citywide analysis of commercial zoning shows that three of the nine districts do not even have four possible locations under the restrictions. This reduces the number of total possible locations within San Diego to less than 30 medical marijuana dispensaries.

Where Can a Medical Marijuana Dispensary Operate in San Diego Under the New Zoning?

The new zoning allows up to four dispensaries in each of the city’s nine council districts. However, the specific zoning requirements essentially limit this number to less than 30 locations. Each medical marijuana dispensary is limited to specific commercial and industrial zones. Each medical marijuana dispensary in San Diego must operate no closer than 1,000 feet from one another,and 100 feet from any residential use. In addition to being spaced at least 1,000 feet from other dispensaries, each storefront must also be 1,000 feet from any school or child care facility, playground or park, library, or church.

It is this restriction that is most troublesome for current and potential medical marijuana dispensary operators in San Diego. The areas within San Diego that are both in a commercial zone and also at least 1,000 feet from schools, parks, etc are few and far between. This forces Marijuana dispensaries in San Diego to operate on the outskirts of town, relatively far from where patients reside.

Where Can I Obtain a Permit to Operate a Medical Marijuana Dispensary?

The city of San Diego began accepting permits from dispensary owners who wish to comply with the new restrictions. On the first day of accepting applications the city received 32 applications along with the initial application fee and deposit of approximately $9,000.

Processing and approval of these applications could take anywhere from 6 months to a year or more. As things develop there may be opportunity for more applicants to obtain a permit to run a dispensary. At this time, assuming all current applicants are approved, there may not be an opportunity for newcomers to enter the market. This could potentially lead to a secondary market for medical marijuana dispensary permits similar to what is seen for liquor licenses across the city. By limiting the supply of the permit, the City Council achieves part of their goal of moving dispensaries away from residential and school areas, but simultaneously creates a very competitive landscape where only a few of the several hundred dispensaries may be able to operate legally.

What Can I Do If I Own a Dispensary and Failed to Get a Permit?

If you are currently running a dispensary but failed to submit an initial application for a medical marijuana dispensary permit, you need to be extremely cautious and work towards compliance immediately and possibly consult a medical marijuana lawyer. Any number of reasons could have led to the failure to apply for a permit including: operating a medical storefront in violation of the new zoning regulations, operating a medical marijuana delivery service in San Diego which is currently not specifically authorized under the zoning, or running a marijuana cooperative without the financial means to complete the permitting process. Regardless of the reason, it is important for your collective to comply with regulations, as the City has stood firm in its position of seeking out and filing suit against medical marijuana cooperatives that are operating outside of the law.