In 2016, a majority of Californians voted in favor of Proposition 64, which effectively legalized the adult-use of cannabis. Despite this, the presence of cannabis companies is prohibited in specific locations. Currently, San Diego laws restrict cannabis businesses from being located near churches, schools, playgrounds and other sensitive locations. Dispensaries and production facilities alike are welcome in the city under the condition that they are more than 100 feet from residential zones and 1,000 feet from churches, parks, schools, libraries and playgrounds.
According to the city’s website, production facilities include operations concerning the “agricultural raising, harvesting and processing” of cannabis as well as wholesale distribution and storage of cannabis and the production of cannabis-derived goods.
“Like our members’ facilities, churches have a responsibility to meet criteria for conditional use permits that were designed to protect the public, including their staff and congregants.”
However, technicalities within the law have paved the way for those in the cannabis industry to have the ability to conduct business nearby. For example, churches without their own necessary building permits have disqualified them from the 1,000 feet distance from cannabis businesses. In other circumstances, physical barriers like freeways between the two locations also allowed for operation approval.
The presence of a freeway means that there is no direct access between the two locations, and therefore, a cannabis facility would not break the law by being on the other side of the freeway. In another case, it was a canyon lying between a church and the potential business location.
Previously, the distance rule was based on the actual distance measured between the two locations. An update to the rule replaced it to refer to travel distance, which can be extended if features like canyons or freeways make the journey longer. While the results of this have garnered mixed reactions between opponents of business operations and advocates of cannabis, there is no argument that the businesses are cooperating with the law.
“The City Council legislated the criteria for granting conditional use permits for marijuana facilities that they believe protect the public—including staff and customers,” shared Rachel Laing, spokeswoman for the United Medical Marijuana Coalition. “Like our members’ facilities, churches have a responsibility to meet criteria for conditional use permits that were designed to protect the public, including their staff and congregants.”
Furthermore, Director of the Development Services Department Elyse Lowe explained that the city approved cannabis businesses in certain locations because they too had to follow the law. “We consistently apply the rules for making determinations about adjacent uses,” she said. “If the church is operating without proper permits, it may or may not be a permissible use at that location. It would be abusing the city’s discretion to not allow another applicant to move forward on that basis.” These technicalities allow some businesses to move forward that typically wouldn’t be able to do so in the past.