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Making sense of new pot law

Posted: January 13th, 2017 | Feature, From the Cover, News, Top Story | No Comments

By Dave Schwab

With California voters passing Proposition 64 in November, marijuana is now legal both recreationally and medicinally statewide and throughout San Diego, including in the Uptown and Mid-City communities.

So what does that mean?

California’s new marijuana law, which goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2018, is expected to make pot farming a new industry. (Photo by Aleks via Wikimedia.org)

First, don’t expect recreational marijuana to be immediately available. The law isn’t scheduled to take effect until Jan. 1, 2018. The state says it will take a year to get permitting established for dispensaries to sell recreational pot.

Also, don’t anticipate the “stigma” attached to pot, having been heretofore illegal, to wear off any time soon. Those steadfastly opposed to the drug’s becoming legal, including many municipalities, can resist implementing Prop 64. They will likely zone it out of their jurisdictions entirely or restrict it to industrial or other outlying areas where it will be less accessible.

With Prop 64’s passage, San Diego Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman said there are a lot of uncertainties to be evaluated in determining how best to enforce the new law governing pot.

“Public safety is always our highest priority,” Zimmerman said. “Now that it is legal to possess and use marijuana under certain conditions in California, we are in the process of analyzing the impacts of this new law and what effect — if any — it will have on our crime rate. As we work in partnership with our community through the changes in policy and procedures, we want residents to be confident that public safety will be kept at the forefront to keep San Diego one of America’s safest large cities.”

Noting that he voted for Prop 64, freshly minted District 3 Councilmember Chris Ward pointed out “District 3 turned in the city’s highest support with more than 76 percent voting yes in November. It authorizes the beginning of a safe legal framework to allow adults to use recreational marijuana, and has the ability to provide a new revenue stream for the city.”

Ward said the city “now has to balance the will of the voters with the responsibility of ensuring that recreational marijuana-related businesses and personal cultivation don’t undermine public safety and neighborhood quality of life. The city must responsibly regulate local zoning and land-use conditions, business license requirements and other requirements to reduce potential impacts.”

District 3 comprises Downtown, Little Italy and the Uptown communities of Bankers Hill, Park West, Hillcrest, Middletown, Old Town, Mission Hills, University Heights, North Park, South Park, Golden Hill and Normal Heights.

“While zoning within most of District 3 currently prohibits medical marijuana dispensaries,” Ward said, “I believe there is one application in process on the north edge of the district off of Camino del Rio South.”

Regarding marijuana legalization, new San Diego City Attorney Mara Elliott said in her campaign statements: “If California voters legalize marijuana, I’ll work closely with city officials and law enforcement to implement measures that regulate, tax and control marijuana. We must keep marijuana out of the hands of minors and away from schools and churches, create stiff penalties for DUIs, and ensure that tax revenue is put to good use in our communities.”

Elliott was contacted by San Diego Uptown News for further comment, but did not meet the publication deadline.

But just because marijuana is now “legal” doesn’t mean it be can smoked openly without restrictions. You’ll have to be 21 or older to possess, transport or buy up to 28.5 grams of recreational marijuana — which amounts to about an ounce of pot — or up to 8 grams of concentrated marijuana.

People won’t be able to smoke pot legally in public places, like bars, unless it is allowed by a local ordinance. Pot also cannot be smoked where state law now prohibits tobacco smoking, including restaurants and theaters, with fines up to $100.

Those caught smoking pot where tobacco smoking is prohibited — or near a school, day care or youth center — can be fined up to $250. Minor violators will also be required to complete four hours of a drug-education program or counseling, and up to 10 hours of community service.

Prop 64 also allows adults to grow and use up to six marijuana plants.

The city of San Diego, before the year-end holiday recess, released recommendations for guidelines for prospective business owners seeking to open marijuana businesses in the city limits.

The city’s proposal allows its 15 existing permitted medical marijuana dispensaries to also sell marijuana to recreational users when that becomes legal in California in January 2018.

But San Diego is the only city thus far in the county that has indicated it intends to allow the sale of recreational pot. Any new dispensary seeking to sell recreational marijuana would need to meet the same rigorous zoning and security regulations the city applies to permitted medical marijuana dispensaries. Those regulations prevent dispensaries from opening near housing, schools, churches, parks and other sensitive uses, while also requiring security guards, cameras and other safety measures.

Only four retailers will be allowed in each City Council district for a total of 36 citywide. They will be allowed to operate from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. seven days a week.

— Dave Schwab can be reached at dschwabie@journalist.com.

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