Cannabis dispensaries in San Diego Tuesday got a clear path to smoothly renew their city operating permits, many of which are set to expire this year.
The City Council unanimously approved a streamlined renewal process for dispensaries that does not require a public hearing. It also allows renewals even if a “sensitive use” — like a church, park or school — has opened near a dispensary after it was first approved.
To get their initial permits, dispensaries had to be at least 1,000 feet from sensitive uses. But a dispensary can get a renewal even if a sensitive use has opened nearby after the initial permit was awarded.
The ordinance the council approved Tuesday also softens the required distance, or buffer, between proposed dispensaries and homes, a change that some residents criticized.
The previous city policy required proposed dispensaries to be at least 100 feet from any residential zones. The amended policy says dispensaries must be 100 feet from an actual lot that is zoned residential, not just a residential zone.
So under the new policy, a dispensary can be within 100 feet of a residential zone as long as the dispensary is not within 100 feet of a residential property.
The new law, which the council must approve a second time, also applies to the city’s 40 cannabis production facilities, which have just started to open across the city.
The streamlined permitting procedures come as 13 of the city’s 25 approved dispensaries face expiration of their initial five-year permits this year. Seven of those dispensaries have already begun the renewal process, city officials said.
An earlier version of the new cannabis ordinance included a softening of the sensitive use rules that prompted community outcry last fall. That part of the ordinance was subsequently removed.
Instead of the current practice of measuring the 1,000-foot distance in a straight line, city officials had proposed measuring it according to “legal pedestrian path of travel.”
That would have allowed cannabis businesses to be directly across major streets from sensitive uses, if it would require traveling more than 1,000 feet to walk from the sensitive use to the nearest intersection, cross the street and then walk to the cannabis business.
Leaders of the local cannabis industry praised the new regulations and permit renewal process. While no public hearings are required, members of the public can prompt a Planning Commission hearing by appealing a renewal.
Resident Jennifer Rakers Nino praised the city for abandoning the proposal to soften distance requirements from sensitive uses.
“I support the council’s rejection of prior propositions to change the measurement from between property lines to path of travel, because the latter leads to creative ways to thwart the code,” she said. “Public safety should not be compromised for any reason, and especially not for economic gain.”
Resident Rob Brienza said he still opposes the new regulations despite the retreat on sensitive uses.
“You must weigh whose interest you are more aligned with — big business marijuana and their lobbyists, or the residents and community members of San Diego, including my family,” he told the council.
The city recently created a Cannabis Permitting Bureau to step up enforcement of city regulations and potentially revoke permits of dispensaries and production facilities that repeatedly violate the rules.
The bureau, with a nearly $1 million annual budget and nine full-time employees, will also centralize the permit approval and renewal process for the city’s cannabis businesses as the industry continues to expand.