Things are starting to look up for medical marijuana patients in Southern California. The first legal dispensary in San Diego opened its doors March 18 and celebrated its grand opening a few days later.

Medical Marijuana DispensaryA Green Alternative went into business roughly a year ago in the wake of a vote by the San Diego City Council to allow a limited number of dispensaries in the city. The vote enacted a set of tough new regulations that the shops must meet.

But A Green Alternative’s opening – a soft opening March 18 and a hard grand opening March 20 – marks a significant step toward greater patient access to marijuana in San Diego. Until now patients have had to make do with the many illegal dispensaries that popped up across the city.

David Blair, owner of the new shop, opened it in a strip mall in Otay Mesa, close to the Brown Field airport. Blair teaches business classes at nearby San Diego State University.

Appeals against MMJ shop rejected

A Green Alternative was cleared by city planning officials in January. An opponent of the shop, who works in addiction treatment, filed an appeal to stop the business, but the San Diego Planning Commission rejected it unanimously.

The business “meets and exceeds” the city’s permit requirements, said Commissioner Susan Peerson. Blair said he has received “almost unanimous support” from fellow business owners at the strip mall and promised to get along with his neighbors.

The handful of people who opposed the site said it’s too close to businesses used by families with children. The neighborhood, however, has a zoning designation of “heavy commercial,” with a fast-food restaurant, a gas station, and an industrial warehouse. There are no schools, churches, or playgrounds nearby, and the area is decidedly not residential.

More dispensaries will follow

Marijuana LeavesMore dispensaries are in the works in San Diego. Three other shops have cleared the appeals stage, overcoming opposition to their plans, and could soon open in Kearny Mesa, San Ysidro, and the Midway District.

The city council voted last year to allow up to four dispensaries in each of San Diego’s council districts. The rules prevent marijuana dispensaries from opening too close to homes, schools, churches, playgrounds, and other locations frequented by children.

Patients in San Diego have suffered through a long, sometimes hopeless quest for MMJ treatment. The city initially banned dispensaries, and a previous mayor routinely cracked down on illegal shops. His successor, on the other hand, openly tolerated them and instructed his legal department not to target them.

But that mayor was felled by a sexual harassment scandal, and his replacement quickly clamped down again. It appears as though medical cannabis dispensaries are on their way back, finally.

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