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By Miriam Raftery

July 30, 2018 (La Mesa) – New Origins, the applicant for a medical marijuana dispensary is suing the city of La Mesa, after the city reversed earlier approval of the dispensary to open in the La Mesa Medical Plaza on University Avenue near El Cajon Boulevard.

After La Mesa’s Planning Commission voted on March 21st to approve a medical marijuana dispensary application for New Origins Management, Inc., the City Council on March 27th unanimously rejected an appeal filed by a rival dispensary applicant, allowing New Dispensary’s project to proceed.

But then San Diego Center for Children, located in the same center as the planned dispensary, filed a separate appeal arguing that the approval violated a city law prohibiting dispensaries within 1,000 feet of minor-oriented facilities. The center claimed to be an “after school program.”

The city requires dispensaries to be over 1,000 feet from minor-oriented facilities which are defined narrowly in Proposition U, which legalized medical marijuana sales in La Mesa, to include only after school programs, teen centers, clubs for boys or girls, children’s theatre, or museums primarily for minors. 

In a report to the Mayor and Council, the City’s Community Development Department recommended upholding the planning Commission’s decision that the center didn’t fit the city’s definition of a minor-oriented facility. The City Attorney reportedly concurred in that finding.

But at an April hearing, the City Council ignored that recommendation. According to the minutes, Council found that the center did constitute a minor-oriented facility as an after-school program for people under age 18. The Council voted unanimously to uphold the appeal and block the marijuana clinic’s application.

The lawsuit argues that the Council’s finding was insufficient to support its decision, citing evidence submitted by the center later, including its contracts with the County and the La Mesa Spring Valley School district.

Wayne Scherer, the owner of New Origins, says the San Diego Center for Children appears to be only offices, not an after school center where children gather wthout parental supervision, NBC 7 reports. He notes he has spent over $200,000 on his application and that city staff never advised him of any zoning concern regarding proximity to the center.  

But the children’s center contends it serves over 500 at-risk children and their families. Moises Baron, who runs the center, has said he was never notified about the marijuana dispensary’s application and learned of it only after it was approved.  He had previously fought to shut down an illegal dispensary at the same location and expanded his services after that facility was closed.

Baron objected to the illegal dispensary in part due to smoking of marijuana outdoors in front of the facility, a practice that would not be allowed at a licensed medical dispensary under the city’s new legal framework approved by voters.