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By Jonathan Goetz

Photo: With exclusions around sensitive sites and each other, it appears three dispensaries will open in the western portion of Lemon Grove along Federal Boulevard

March 8, 2017 (Lemon Grove) – Lemon Grove City Council held a public hearing Tuesday about the new medical marijuana dispensary application process that opens March 20th to comply with  Measure V, which Lemon Grove voters approved in November legalizing medical cannabis sales.   

Staff concurred with Councilmember Jennifer Mendoza that the new regulations will allow for an estimated three medical marijuana dispensaries in Lemon Grove, a city of 25,000 people.

City Manager Lydia Romero told a room full of people, many of whom wish to submit applications for a conditional use permit (CUP) in Lemon Grove, that information for prospective applicants is available online at the city’s development services page.

 “It’s just like the process of opening any other business,” Mayor Racquel Vasquez told the East County Magazine. “There is a lot of fear of the unknown, and the Council is ensuring that we protect public safety.”

During Council deliberation on marijuana, three people spoke in opposition to the normalization of use and proposed additional language which could be added to the ordinances that staff brings back.  A fourth person spoke against placing undue financial burdens on patients.

Later in the meeting, Councilmember Jerry Jones responded to one speaker’s concern over a transparent storefront requirement, noting, “Our hands are tied quite a bit by Measure V.“

Jones asked staff, “How are we going to redraw those lines to keep that 1,000 foot radius?” referring to the distance between dispensaries. Romero replied “It’s going to be a race to see who gets theirs approved first.”

On the March 20th process opening, City Attorney Jim Lough said, “We take applications in the order they come in; the applications will be out on one day and we will take them in as they come and we will process them just as we do any other permit.”

Romero told the audience, “In this case staff is neutral; it is a race to see who gets their application in, whoever follows the rules, whoever works with staff…so it’s incumbent upon applicants to follow all the rules and to do everything right.”  Properly completed applications may be approved before earlier applications with information missing.

David De Vries, Development Services Director said for each dispensary, a public hearing will be scheduled within 60 days, where Council will make a final decision. The final decision requires a minimum of three affirmative votes. 

The Council has long shut down unlicensed dispensaries in the past, before voters approved legalization. Two of the public speakers thanked the Council for its successful crackdown on unlicensed dispensaries in the past.

Councilman Jones encouraged residents with concerns that are not in the ordinance, “We would like them to bring those things forward.”

Romero said she expects a long line of applicants on March 20th, adding, “The earliest we might see a dispensary is late summer, it really just depends on the applicant.”

Councilmember Matt Mendoza quipped that it’s strange for him to advocate for more taxes, then asked staff if there was a way to add more taxes to medical marijuana.

Staff clarified that Measure V authorizes a per patient quarterly fee to be paid to the city, but excludes other taxation of medical marijuana unless approved by voters.

Earlier in the Council meeting, Heartland Fire and Rescue gave an annual report while the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department gave a Lemon Grove Substation 2016 review. This is Lemon Grove’s seventh year with Heartland Fire and Rescue, which has received unusually high quality ratings from the government, scoring in the ninety ninth percentile in official reviews. After hearing Heartland’s Annual Report to the City, Councilmember Jerry Jones voiced hope that Santee join the joint powers authority (JPA).

Sheriff’s Lieutenant Chris May gave the 2016 Substation Review.  He shared that Lemon Grove has had the second lowest incidence of burglaries in the past three years. He added that Lemon Grove is having a seasonal up-tick in vehicle thefts; when pressed by Jones, May explained this happens when the rains stop and people start leaving windows rolled down.

In 2016 there were 20,116 calls for Sheriff services from Lemon Grove, which resulted in 1,112 arrests, increases from historical levels, which upon pressing by the Council, the Lieutenant attributed to the state’s realignment transferring inmates from state prisons to local jails, which in turn resulted in early release of some local prisoners.

Mayor Vasquez asked if Lt. May felt only having two Sheriff deputies on duty at a time was enough, to which he replied, “When we need them, we can get as many deputies as we need.”

Instead of two deputies at the meeting there were five.  Drawing extra deputies from neighboring jurisdictions can be problematic, however, given that manpower is already stretched thin in some adjacent communities, reliable sources have told ECM.

During public comments, two people spoke on items not on the agenda.  One complained about an abandoned development site that has turned into a landfill and another voiced concerns over alleged rotting dead animals at Lemon Grove Pets.