Thursday, May 6, 2010

On Level Four Permitting in San Diego

By: Larry Sweet, San Diego MMTF / San Diego ASA

As the author of the two-tier permitting recommendation from the Medical Marijuana Task Force (MMTF), I have often been asked “why don’t you support level four permitting for dispensaries?”  It is a reasonable question and one that deserves a considered opinion.  I hope the following helps clarify this question and helps people get behind reasonable permitting.

The first thing to understand is that a level four permit is the same permit that is required for an airport for example or botanical gardens for another.  It is necessary for the complex nature of these enterprises and allows for extensive conditional use, public review and exhaustive inspection.  One would expect that level of permitting for control of pollution.  Dispensaries are not that complicated.

The City IBA reported to the MMTF that the initial, non-refundable fee for a level four permit was $8,000.  In addition to that; all agree that the costs of inspection and permitting should be recovered from the applicant.  According to the documentation from other Counties reviewed by the MMTF these permits can cost applicants $35,000 to $50,000 in fees for the permitting process alone.

A hidden cost to the start up cost is the investment beyond the permitting fees themselves.  Any business that applies for a fee will have to demonstrate they have a location which means a lease agreement entailing deposits and a financial commitment for typically more than a year.  In addition there are the costs associated with remodeling, furniture, security equipment, medicine and myriad other necessities.  These costs mount up extremely fast considering you can easily spend $30,000 on the lease alone.

A conservative estimate based on the above show that if your collective wishes to open a dispensary they will need somewhere north of $100,000 for start-up capitol. 

There are two extremely important points relative to that number:
1.     This effectively closes every legitimate collective in town, except a couple of very large operations.
2.    The City is asking only people with that much money to provide medicine for the patients who need access.

I believe that San Diegans, due to their proximity to the border, must be extremely careful who they invite to this dance.  Unfortunately, we have people that are that well organized with those resources engaged in a blood bath south of the border.

I am not certain that the City Council itself fully understands the implications of passing a level four permit.  Do they really want to have their name and office associated with every dispensary that exists in San Diego from this point forward?  Do they really have the time, energy and political capitol to revisit this issue every time someone wants to provide safe access in San Diego?  I prefer the permitting process to be codified and clear, not subject to the political aspirations of the current or any other City Council. 

I do not intend to make the case for the two-tier approach again; I believe that the protection it affords smaller collectives is self evident.  My concern is that the City Council is about to throw the baby out with the bath water if they support level four permitting.  The current strength found in the responsible and respectable collectives in town will be decimated and patients will be forced into WeedMart corrals for access to their medicine.  It is my hope that the level heads on the City Council are aware of these issues and will provide, somehow, for the continuing existence of the current collectives, regardless of their size or financial resources.

 San Diego Medical Marijuana Task Force Website

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