San Diego halts all actions against marijuana shops

SAN DIEGO — At the order of newly elected San Diego Mayor Bob Filner, the city is dropping all legal efforts aimed at forcing marijuana dispensaries out of business.

In memos last week to the San Diego Police Department and code compliance officers, Filner ordered that “targeted code enforcement” against marijuana dispensaries end “immediately.” Both departments report to the mayor.

Filner, a Democrat, also plans to revisit an issue the City Council has shown little eagerness to tackle: the creation of zoning rules to permit marijuana businesses.

Filner restated his support for making marijuana accessible to people “who legitimately need it for relief of pain.” He said he will soon propose an ordinance allowing operation of dispensaries, although not near schools, playgrounds or anywhere that would harm neighborhoods.

“I believe that, in order to be a great city, we must also be a humane city and show compassion toward those who need help in dealing with chronic pain,” he said.

Under current city zoning regulations, there are no legal areas for marijuana dispensaries. The City Council adopted a marijuana zoning ordinance but dropped it in July 2011 when marijuana activists complained that it was too restrictive.

As a result of Filner’s action, the city will no longer pursue a dozen cases against dispensaries, said City Attorney Jan Goldsmith. More than 100 dispensaries have already been forced to close because of code-violation litigation by the city attorney.

Filner appeared Tuesday before a group favoring legalization of marijuana, and referred to Goldsmith’s actions as “persecution.” He suggested that the group may need to stage protests.

Goldsmith subsequently sent the mayor a letter saying he would halt the remaining cases, which had been filed at the request of the code compliance staff and Police Department.

“Rather than pursue the drama last night and call for a demonstration, you could have achieved your goal in less than 30 seconds” with a phone call, Goldsmith wrote.

In a telephone interview, Goldsmith said, “Filner is a new mayor and he needs a period of adjustment.”

The marijuana issue is an indication of the differences in policy and governing style between the more assertive Filner and his predecessor, Jerry Sanders, a Republican and former police chief. Sanders supported the city attorney’s legal action against the marijuana dispensaries.

While Filner’s action ends the city’s closure campaign, U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy continues to order dispensaries to cease operation or face possible criminal charges and asset forfeiture.

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