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Dispensing with the dispensaries

Posted: June 20th, 2014 | North Park, Parenting, Top Story | No Comments

Andy Hinds | Parenting

There are a lot of things I do in my current incarnation as Middle-Aged Dad, at which my 18-year-old self would shake his Robert Smith hairdo in disbelief and distaste. Carrying an infant in a sling while cleaning the wood floors with a Swiffer Wet Jet (best invention ever). Car-dancing to “I’m a Gummy Bear” while driving a seafoam green minivan littered with goldfish crackers, plastic jewelry, and half-completed Hello Kitty coloring pages. Knowing not just the names of all the My Little Ponies, but also how to identify them by their cutie marks (please don’t call them “brands.”) Yelling at drivers for going 35 mph in a 25 mph zone. Doing Zumba.

But the one thing Young Me would have been utterly confounded and disgusted by is what I’ve been thinking lately: I wish there weren’t so many places in my neighborhood that sold killer bud at reasonable prices.

A medical marijuana dispensary on University Avenue in North Park  (Photo by McKenna Aiello)

A medical marijuana dispensary on University Avenue in North Park
(Photo by McKenna Aiello)

Cue record-scratch (probably The Replacements). Cue startled reaction from Young Me — as if a seed had just popped mid-bonghit — followed by wincing, jaw-dropping, and the simple utterance of betrayed disbelief: “Dude!”

I’m always watching vacant Uptown buildings, daydreaming about what they might become. I drive down University Avenue, 30th Street and El Cajon Boulevard on purpose even when there are much quicker ways to get home, just so I can see what’s happening in those spaces when the construction fencing goes up and the “Future Home of …” signs go in the windows. Restaurant? Awesome. Brew pub? Coffee shop? Sure, I guess there’s always room for more of those. Ice cream parlor? Sweet. Hookah lounge? Eh, whatever. Sex toy emporium? All right. It’s gonna be awkward to explain that to my kids, but as long as the window display is tasteful, I can deal. At least it’s not another payday loan racket.

I was really trying to be open-minded when I saw the green cross logo appear on the long-vacant building at University Avenue and Villa Terrace in North Park and realized what it represented. Wait a minute, I thought. Does that mean …?

Great. Weed shop.

This is when the dialogue in my head started. It wasn’t just Middle-Aged Dad Me vs. Young Me. There was also another guy: Progressive Grownup Me.

Middle-Aged Dad Me: Aw, crap. Why couldn’t it be a puppet theater that sells craft beer?

Progressive Grownup Me: Marijuana has been shown to be effective as a painkiller, a seizure preventative, and a treatment for glaucoma. It alleviates anxiety, provides relief from PTSD…

Middle-Aged Dad Me: Yeah, yeah, yeah … I’m sure nobody but cancer patients will be shopping here. There won’t be any riff-raff loitering around, smoking blunts right outside the kid’s school. Right. Nothing like that could happen.

Young Me: WEED! COOL!

Middle-Aged Dad Me and Progressive Grownup Me: SHUT UP!

Progressive Grownup Me: Look, it’s absolutely absurd that pot is demonized while “upstanding citizens” manufacture and use powerful psychotropic pharmaceuticals — and prescribe them to children at alarming rates — that are far more dangerous than this virtually innocuous, totally natural product. And don’t get me started about alcohol. We think pot should be legal, remember?

Young Me: Yeah, man! You’re nothing but a hypocrite, Middle-Aged Dad Me! Weed is way safer and better for you than alcohol. And you’re always like “Oh goody — a place where I can take the kids and drink beer.” Hah. What do you have to say for yourself now, hypocrite?

Middle-Aged Dad Me: SHUT UP!

Progressive Grownup Me: He’s kind of right, you know. Even if they’re not strictly getting it for a medical condition, how is someone picking up an eighth of Platinum Kush or Purple Trainwreck any different than you grabbing a couple bottles of Palate Wrecker from Bottlecraft?

Young Me: See, I told you! Hypocrite!

Middle-Aged Dad Me and Progressive Grownup Me: Please shut up.

Young Me: [Muttering] Nobody listens to me.

Middle-Aged Dad Me: But aren’t dispensaries technically, like, illegal here? Or in some kind of legal limbo where they sort of operate outside the purview of the law? I think there’s something sketchy about them. Wasn’t there a story about that on KPBS or in The Reader or something?

Progressive Grownup Me: [Embarrassed] I … uh, don’t think I got around to actually reading the story. Breaking Bad was on, and, well, you know … [trails off]. I’m definitely going to look into it though.

So I went on about my business for several months, looking askance at the weed shop on University Avenue and promising to read up on the current legal standing of marijuana dispensaries, but never getting around to it.

Then, on a Friday in April, in broad daylight, there was an attempted robbery at a dispensary on Ray Street that ended in a shootout between the robbers and the armed security guard, in which one robber was killed and the security guard was wounded. This was four blocks from where my kids will go to kindergarten in September. It was exactly the kind of thing I had always associated with these (legal? illegal? Who knows?) operations. Middle-Aged Dad Me was all “What the hell?”

On the news, owners of businesses near the pot shop where the shootout occurred were of different minds. One was quoted saying that it could happen anywhere, a 7-11, a drugstore, wherever. Another said that the fears she had when that business opened up had been confirmed. These arguments perfectly reflected my continued ambivalence toward dispensaries. “It’s just like a liquor store — they get held up all the time,” Progressive Grownup Me said.

“Except that it’s an especially attractive target for scumbags — full of cash and weed that they can turn around and sell on the street,” Middle-Aged Dad Me replied.

Then on a Monday night in June, there was a drive-by shooting at Villa Terrace and Wightman Street, just behind the dispensary on University Avenue. Middle-Aged Dad Me was like, “Shut them down! Shut all the pot shops down immediately! Not in my back yard!”

Then I calmed down a little, duly noting that equidistant from the shooting was the seediest bar in North Park and maybe all of Uptown San Diego, one which I will cross the street in the middle of the day to avoid. And there were no suspects or motives reported: The shootings could have had nothing to do with either the bar or the pot shop. But still.

I was finally motivated to read up on medical marijuana dispensary laws in San Diego, and found out that, indeed, City Council did approve a package of zoning and operating restrictions for medical marijuana dispensaries in early 2014. As of April 24, the city had started taking applications for legal dispensaries, but as far as I could tell, none had yet been z dispensaries still operating?

I reached out to some city government types, who, mistaking me for a real journalist, got me in touch with the officials involved in this complicated issue. In a conference call, Mike Richmond, Acting Deputy Director of the medical marijuana project at Development Services, broke it down for me:

“Any dispensary operating currently is technically illegal, because no conditional use permits have been issued yet,” Richmond told me. “People report these operations to us, and we actively work to investigate and shut them down. That’s our goal. The process can be lengthy because after we investigate a location and issue a violation, if they don’t voluntarily comply and shut down, we refer the cases to the City Attorney for further enforcement actions, and that process has to play out. I can tell you that we have shut down 54 dispensaries, and we currently have a total of 66 open active cases on dispensaries. 36 of those are being handled by the City Attorney, and 30 are active investigations in our Code Enforcement office.”

Later in the conversation, Richmond told me that the dispensary on Ray Street, where the shooting occurred, has closed down and not reopened; and that the dispensary on University Avenue that I pass by every day is under litigation with the City Attorney. Middle-Aged Dad Me was all “Yesss!!”

I asked Development Services Project Manager for medical marijuana, Edith Gutierrez, who was also on the conference call, about something I had read saying that under the new zoning laws, dispensaries would essentially be banned in Council District 3. She told me there was nothing specifically banning dispensaries in particular districts, and she spelled out the zoning regulations for me: Dispensaries must not be within 1000 feet of any childcare facility, church, library, minor-related facility, other medical marijuana co-op, playground, public park, residential care facility, or school; and not within 100 feet away from a residential zone. In other words, thought Middle-Aged Dad Me, Not In My Back Yard.

Middle-Aged Dad Me went for a high five with Progressive Grownup Me, who left him hanging.

Middle-Aged Dad Me: What? The problem is on the way to solving itself, and we won’t have to stress about it.

Progressive Grownup Me: Wow. Nice, Mr. Compassion.

Middle-Aged Dad Me: What? Stoners are gonna have to go somewhere else for their weed?

Progressive Grownup Me: Well, yeah. And people with terrible medical conditions who need marijuana for comfort and relief.

Middle-Aged Dad Me: Hey. I know it’s not perfect. But it’s better than what we had. I would have nothing against weed shops, if they were regulated and taxed like any other business. I would welcome them here if they were legitimate and contributed to the community instead of causing problems. Lemme put it this way: I wouldn’t want an illegal sweat-shop or plastic surgery center here. Would you? Maybe the permitted shops will be a great boon to the neighborhoods where they can legally exist. That’s great for them. But it’s out of our hands.

Progressive Grownup Me: [Reluctantly returns high-five]

Young Me: [Sulks]

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