City Council attempts to circumvent voters

by Staff

MCT Campus
MCT Campus

In a move to further thwart the will of California voters, San Diego’s legislature is looking to approve a virtual ban on legal marijuana dispensaries within city limits. The Council aims to make legal access impossible by placing unreasonable restrictions on where dispensaries can operate.

The proposed ban requires all legal marijuana dispensaries to be at least 600 feet from schools, parks, churches, libraries and each other. Dispensaries will be restricted to mostly industrial areas far from where most consumers live. Meanwhile, the 165 already legally operating dispensaries in San Diego will be closed until they can relocate and reapply for a new permit, a process estimated to take more than a year. Many will be unable to reopen because the ban effectively limits the number of legal locations for dispensaries to operate.

This flies in the face of the voter-approved Proposition 215, which guarantees safe and legal access to medical marijuana. If the new laws are enacted, legal users will be forced to drive far out into heavily industrial areas. Not only can terminally ill patients who rely on medical marijuana simply not make that kind of a trip, but there are also other risks present. Fewer dispensaries mean more predictability, and more susceptibility to patients being followed and robbed. Even further, if legislators are actively trying to place barriers between legal users and dispensaries, it’s only logical medical users may instead turn to illegal dealers in closer proximity.

With this proposal, legislators have once again ignored the potential benefits dispensaries contribute to the city. Working to put every roadblock possible to prevent a legally functioning enterprise only wastes valuable tax dollars. Much like cigarettes and alcohol, taxing medical marijuana could contribute millions of dollars to a stagnant and suffering city budget. San Diego is on the verge of bankruptcy; we’re laying off teachers, “browning out” our fire and police departments and have potholes the size of Smart cars. But naturally it’s medical marijuana that represents the greatest threat to “America’s Finest City,” right?

We should instead look up to Oakland, which in 2009 was the first to institute a tax on medical marijuana sales. In just one year, the modest tax of $18 for every $1,000 of medical marijuana sold brought in an estimated $300,000 in new revenue. A similar tax could easily be enacted in San Diego, which accounts has far more dispensaries than Oakland. Annually, a 10 percent tax on gross marijuana sales could easily result in millions of dollars in new tax revenue.

We’re in the worst budget crisis our city has ever seen, with a legal, untapped source of revenue. Can anyone tell me why we’re not capitalizing on this?

This common sense approach is a win–win for everyone involved. The city gets a much-needed new revenue stream, dispensaries and business owners are allowed to stay open and medical users can continue to purchase marijuana in a safe, legal way. Unfortunately, the ideology of a few city councilmen is keeping the city legislature from a simple and smart solution.

I’m not claiming everyone with a medical marijuana card is a cancer patient or even seriously ill. Many sufferers of “headaches” and “insomnia” have applied for and received cards. But there are still many users with a legitimate need for medical marijuana. Many patients have vocally defended their right to safe access by attending rallies and delivering speeches to the city council. But fears of kush-crazed 20-somethings roaming the city streets with bloodshot eyes and a hunger for Mexican food have drowned out all else. Ironically, it’s our city council that has reefer madness in this situation.

The actual demographics of cardholders shouldn’t even make a difference. When voters took to the polls in 1996, they understood the risk of medical marijuana abuse. Yet they voted to approve medical marijuana anyway. To pretend the abuse is a new phenomenon that justifies a de facto ban on a legal industry is disingenuous and ignores the clear will of California’s voters.

City legislators worry that if we allow medical marijuana to remain legal, crime and vandalism will skyrocket. However, the only real crime on the rise has been the shameless manipulation of laws by the San Diego City Council. It has driven the city to the ground for its own gains. Here is a chance for it to solve part of our budget crisis. Whether our legislators can sober up and do the right thing, however, remains to be seen.

— Leonardo Castaneda is an economics and journalism freshman.

— The views expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Daily Aztec.