A state commission unanimously approved a request by the City of Imperial Beach to outlaw medical marijuana distribution facilities at a meeting last Thursday at the Bahia Resort Hotel in San Diego.
A ban on dispensaries was approved in a 4-1 City Council vote in July 2011. The ordinance prohibits clinic, health care facilities treating people with chronic or life threatening illnesses, hospices and any other types of service providers or businesses from distributing medical marijuana.
The change in local zoning will not impact the ability for up to three people to form a collective to cultivate marijuana in Imperial Beach.
In part due to the restrictive nature of the law passed by the city in 2011, a petition campaign was started and the Safe Access Ordinance of Imperial Beach was penned by advocates as an alternatives.
Despite a well funded campaign in favor of allowing dispensaries, IB voters joined other cities in San Diego last fall and struck down propositions to allow for the distribution of medical marijuana.
Due to the debate over Prop. S, it took more than a year to get city zoning laws changed by the California Coastal Commission and reflect the ordinance approved by the City Council, said City Planner Jim Nakagawa.
"By the time they [Coastal Commission] were about ready to schedule it for a hearing, then we had that ballot Proposition S that came up. And then we had to wait for the ballot proposition to see which way it went first before we did anything or proceeded on with the zoning amendment," Nakagawa said.
The city argued that other cities that allowed medical marijuana distribution facilities to flourish saw robberies, violence, illegal sales to minors and other problems.
"The City Council anticipates that the City of Imperial Beach will experience similar adverse impacts and effects," a Coastal Commission addendum states.
The addendum goes on to state that the city believes many dispensaries do not operate as true cooperatives or collectives.
As such, dispensaries would require "substantial resources" to regulate and "ensure that the facilities operate lawfully and are not fronts for illegal drug trafficking."
According to the Coastal Act, the commission can only deny a change to a local coastal plan if changes "do not conform with, or are inadequate to carry out, the provisions of the certified land use plan."
James Lee Guaver was the only public speaker.
"This is really about persecution and discrimination," he said. "This is all about making it more difficult for patients to be able to get to their source of medication."
Following Coastal Commission staff direction, the change to Imperial Beach zoning code received unanimous approval, though some members of the commission questioned why they were asked to vote on the zoning change at all.
For the record, Commissioner Esther Sanchez reiterated that the commission only has the power to reject amendments if they interfere with land use plans.
"In light of that we must adopt it, so that is why I'm making a motion," she said.
Commissioner Jana Zimmer wanted to know if the commission is required to consider this type of zoning change.
"I'm really troubled still by the fact that these still come to us because they don't implicate any Coastal Act issues," she said. "I want to know that we really are required to consider these as part of the LCP or do we have any options of suggesting that under their police powers they put it somewhere else because we really, this isn't our issue."
Hope Schmeltzer, chief counsel for the Coastal Commission, said the commission and staff have failed to find a reason why they should not consider changes to local coastal plans.
"This issue was considered and discussed, and commission and staff really worked to see if there was somewhere else to put these in local codes and we weren't ever able to work that out," she said in response to Zimmer's question. "Staff agrees this isn't really our issue, and because of that we haven't been able to find a basis for rejecting this type of amendment."