Last week, after his monthly, hour-long session with the press, San Diego Mayor Bob Filner pulled CityBeat aside and told us that’s he’s considering, as part of a new medicinal-marijuana ordinance that would take another crack at providing a framework for pot dispensaries to operate legally, imposing a $10,000 permit fee and a 2-percent excise tax on the sale of marijuana products.

As long as Filner can make the case that the high permit fee is necessary to recover bureaucratic and law-enforcement costs associated with legalizing medicinal-marijuana storefronts, we’re fine with it. Frankly, it might be necessary to help secure enough votes on the City Council to win passage of the ordinance. We’re hearing that, as far as the local medicinal-marijuana community is concerned, the permit fee and excise tax won’t be deadly poison pills; advocates are open to them as long as dispensaries are allowed in enough types of land-use zones that patients have relatively easy access to them.

Zoning was one of the problems the last time the city tried to legalize nonprofit marijuana collectives, in the spring of 2011. Under the ordinance passed by the City Council, collectives were limited to far-flung industrial zones and required to shut down for months before they could secure permits under the new rules. The council repealed its ordinance after marijuana advocates threatened a referendum. Subsequently, the U.S. Attorney’s office and the City Attorney’s office cracked down on the collectives that were operating in a legal gray area, effectively shutting down the industry in San Diego.

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All that occurred during the tenure of Mayor Jerry Sanders, who wasn’t a fan of the manner in which he saw pot dispensaries operate. But Filner campaigned on a promise to help legitimate patients get access to marijuana, and one of the first things he did was tell the city’s code-compliance division to stop referring violations to the City Attorney’s office.

Filner’s legal advisor, Lee Burdick, has been meeting privately with marijuana advocates and crafting parameters of a new ordinance, and Filner had planned to propose the ordinance to the City Council this week, but it’s been pushed back to March 25, we’re told.

Alex Kreit, an associate professor at Thomas Jefferson Law School and chair of a task force that made recommendations in the run-up to the 2011 ordinance—recommendations that were largely ignored—said in an email that the permit fee and excise tax are reasonable. While he worries a bit that the tax will be burdensome for the most needy patients, “right now, patients do not have safe and reliable access to medical marijuana in San Diego. I think that the mayor and his staff are in the best position to know what sort of proposal will be most appealing to council members.

“I think that some medical-marijuana advocates may have let the perfect be the enemy of the good in the last go-around,” Kreit added, “and I would hate to see that happen again.” 

We hope the mayor is counting City Council votes. He needs five of them to pass his ordinance. We believe that Todd Gloria and David Alvarez would vote for a proposal that’s less restrictive than the one that passed 5-2 in 2011. Lorie Zapf voted against the 2011 ordinance because it wasn’t tough enough, so, presumably, she’s a no. That means Filner needs three votes from a group that includes Democrats Marti Emerald and Sherri Lightner and Republican Kevin Faulconer, who all voted yes in 2011, and Republicans Mark Kersey and Scott Sherman, who weren’t on the council two years ago. Filner’s best hope might be Emerald, Lightner and Kersey—we hope he’s working to ameliorate any concerns.

San Diego’s elected officials—Filner, a majority of the council and City Attorney Jan Goldsmith—need to present a united front for legal and safe patient access to marijuana and against federal enforcement of an archaic law that puts the herb on par with the most dangerous drugs known to society.

We believe that the public is closing in on a tipping point of favoring marijuana legalization, and it’s long past that point for legalization for medicinal purposes. We urge the council to stand strong against community NIMBYism and ensure that people who use marijuana as an herbal remedy for pain and other symptoms have easy access to it.

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