By David R. Shorey, East County Program Manager, Institute for Public Strategies
January 10, 2023 (Lemon Grove) -- Since the passage of Proposition 64 legalizing cannabis for recreational use, cities and counties across California have been attempting to meet the desires of the electorate while also balancing public health and safety. Local Control, the ability for cities and counties to regulate whether or how cannabis operations exist in their jurisdictions, was included in the original proposition. It often brings the fight for or against cannabis to city hall steps.
Lemon Grove is no different. After Proposition 64, residents of Lemon Grove turned to the initiative process in 2016 to allow the sale of medical marijuana. The measure passed. But it wasn’t until 2021 that the City Council adopted an ordinance regarding recreational cannabis. The law passed in June of that year creates a regulatory framework by which cannabis can be sold for recreational use in Lemon Grove. Residents are now seeing how the adoption of that ordinance is impacting their community.
Two cannabis retailers are operating in Lemon Grove, another is about to open this year, and two more are going through the approval process for a total of five storefronts. City officials say so far, so good when it comes to these businesses staying in compliance with the municipal code. Let’s hope it stays that way as more of these stores open and operate in the city. The city’s Code Enforcement and the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department are tasked with making sure these businesses behave and operate within the law. Just because state law says recreational cannabis is allowed for retail sales, cultivation, manufacturing, distribution and testing in certain zones, that doesn’t mean it should be allowed anywhere and everywhere.
The Lemon Grove cannabis law does have distance requirements. The businesses that sell it must be one thousand feet from public parks, playgrounds, licensed daycare facilities, schools, and alcohol and substance abuse treatment centers. These are considered protected uses. Measurement is between the closest property lines of the premises in which the regulated uses and protected uses are located.
“The measurement of the distance between uses will take into account natural topographical barriers and constructed barriers such as freeways or flood control channels that would impede direct physical access between the uses,” the Lemon Grove Municipal Code reads. “In such cases, the separation distance shall be measured as the most direct route around the barrier in a manner that establishes direct access.”
While we are at it, the law also prohibits the sale of alcoholic beverages, tobacco, tobacco products, and drug paraphernalia at cannabis stores. A Conditional Use Permit valid for three years is issued before a cannabis business can open in Lemon Grove. Then it must pass a compliance check before being renewed. A uniformed security guard is required to remain on the premises while the store is open and each location must also designate a Community Relations Liaison to address community complaints or operational problems. The added bonus in the law requires the liaison to provide their name, phone number and email address to the Lemon Grove City Manager, Sheriff’s Department personnel supervising law enforcement in Lemon Grove and neighbors within 100 feet of the dispensary.
“We implement a lot of laws. This was put into place by the people,” Lemon Grove City Manager Lydia Romero said. “There haven’t been any issues at the businesses operating in our city.”
Maybe not precisely at the businesses, but problems do present on our roads, our legal system, our health systems, our substance misuse treatment systems, and our social outcomes such as education and professional achievement. The proliferation of cannabis outlets, whether recreational or medical, has the potential to severely impact the health and safety of communities and youth in particular.
Cannabis is risky for young people because it can interfere with brain development and has been shown to cause long-term deficits in cognitive function deficits when use begins in adolescence. Comprehensive regulation is a crucial strategy for county and municipal leaders to the prevent negative impacts of cannabis on youth.
There is a lot to consider now that cannabis is being woven into the fabric of our society. We have to stay alert, get involved in our communities and ensure our best interests are being met by our elected officials and community leaders. IPS will be working with Lemon Grove residents to monitor cannabis operations in Lemon Grove to ensure they are in full compliance with city and state requirements. This will include site assessments for existing cannabis operations and impact analysis for new operations. IPS will also be working with other community organizations to raise awareness about the impact that cannabis has on communities. This will include information about conflicts with prescription medications, impacts on an individual's brain before fully developed at age 25, impacts of high THC levels on mental health, and how pediatric (under age 6) cannabis poisonings have skyrocketed.
Cannabis is legal in California and cities like Lemon Grove are working to ensure that the negative impacts of cannabis don't outweigh any positive impacts.
IPS works alongside communities to build power, challenge systems of inequity, protect health and improve quality of life. IPS has a vision for safe, secure, vibrant and healthy communities where everyone can thrive. To find out more about IPS East County, follow us on our social media platforms: IPS East County Facebook, IPS East County Twitter, and East County Youth Coalition Instagram. Our website is at IPSEast.org.