San Diego cracking down on marijuana billboards but loosening other rules
City proposals would amend regulations for marijuana, food trucks, commercial neighborhoods.
San Diego is moving forward with a long-awaited crackdown on marijuana billboard ads as part of a package of new city regulations and rule changes.
In addition to limiting where billboards can be placed, the city is proposing to loosen restrictions on the locations of marijuana dispensaries and marijuana production facilities – such as indoor pot farms and factories making marijuana edibles.
The package of reforms also includes replacing “marijuana” with “cannabis” in all city codes and documents. The goal is matching language used by state officials and matching the term used in a 2016 ballot measure where city voters approved a special tax on the drug.
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The San Diego Planning Commission is scheduled to consider the proposed reforms Oct. 24, with the City Council expected to give them final approval by the end of the year, city officials said.
The reforms, formally called phase two of the 12th Land Development Code update, would also loosen rules on food trucks and allow the sale of alcohol in neighborhood shopping centers for the first time.
The billboard crackdown, first proposed by Councilman Chris Cate in spring 2018, aims to keep the conspicuous ads away from children who could be encouraged to try the drug.
The proposal would ban marijuana billboard ads within 1,000 feet of schools, public parks, playgrounds, day care centers or youth centers.
State law already prohibits the billboard ads within 1,000 feet of some sensitive uses, but the state list doesn’t include parks.
Cate had proposed also including libraries, churches and residential care facilities, but those aren’t included in the city proposal. In addition, Cate wanted to ban the ads within 100 feet of residential housing, but that was also excluded.
The city proposal does include Cate’s request that the restrictions apply to legal and illegal marijuana businesses. That’s unlike state law, which has been criticized for leaving open the question of whether it applies to illegal businesses.
While San Diego officials have managed to shut down nearly all the illegal dispensaries in the city, an estimated 100 illegal delivery services have taken their place as a new black market for marijuana.
The billboards have become increasingly common across the city since legal recreational sales of the drug began in January 2018.
Many of the city’s legal marijuana dispensaries consistently rely on billboard ads to attract customers. The ads cost several thousand dollars per month, depending on location.
Leaders of the local marijuana industry have said they welcome the billboard rules, especially the effort to differentiate between legal and illegal dispensaries.
Opponents of marijuana legalization have also praised them, but some have expressed concern that the city plans to use code enforcement officers instead of police to handle citations and fines for violations.
City officials also propose to further soften rules that prohibit marijuana businesses within 100 feet of housing and within 1,000 feet of churches, parks, schools and youth-oriented facilities.
When the city first started allowing marijuana businesses in 2014, the distance was based on a straight line from the business to the sensitive use — without regard to topographical features or path of travel.
The city subsequently softened the rule to take into account topographical barriers, such as canyons, and constructed barriers, such as freeways.
Now city officials propose to shift to a standard based on the most direct and legal pedestrian path of travel between property lines.
Gina Austin, a leading local marijuana attorney, said she expects the change to make only a small difference in an isolated case or two, at most.
“They are just making it very simple: ‘path of travel’,” said Austin, noting that Chula Vista uses the same standard. “You may get a few extra feet out of it.”
Scott Chipman, a Pacific Beach resident and member of Americans Against Legalizing Marijuana, said the change is another instance of city officials bending rules to suit the local marijuana industry.
“We are completely opposed to any code changes that further normalize this dangerous drug and the drug dealers that are selling it in our community,” Chipman said.
On food trucks, city officials say the amended regulation would help support the industry by allowing standing tables, shade structures and signs of up to six square feet in size within private property.
On allowing alcohol in neighborhood shopping centers, the regulation change would stipulate that eating and drinking establishments in “commercial neighborhoods” could sell “intoxicating beverages.”
Commercial neighborhoods are defined by the city as “neighborhood shopping centers which provide limited retail, business service and office facilities for the convenience of residents of the neighborhood.”
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