SAN MARCOS — North County cities that have taken a hardline stance against cannabis are being forced to yield slightly in their regulations under a new state law requiring jurisdictions to allow local delivery of medical cannabis.
Under Senate Bill 1186, known as the Medicinal Cannabis Patients’ Right of Access Act, all California jurisdictions must allow the delivery of medical cannabis products within city limits by the start of 2024.
The city of San Marcos adopted a new ordinance on Sept. 26 stating that delivery of these products will no longer be prohibited. However, city officials maintained that medical cannabis establishments, even those that are delivery-only, will still not be permitted in the city.
Deputy City Attorney Jacqueline Paterno said due to the city’s proximity to Vista, where there are eight delivery-only cannabis establishments, residents would not be prohibited from accessing delivery.
“In remote jurisdictions, it would be necessary to allow establishments because there’s no other business nearby that could serve the population,” Paterno said. “There’s plenty of establishments that can deliver nearby into San Marcos that are nearby, so we don’t have that issue of having to allow actual delivery-only establishments to open or be permitted in San Marcos.”
Some North County jurisdictions widely allow commercial cannabis, and most are already compliant with the act. There are multiple dispensaries in Vista, and Encinitas approved its first dispensaries last year. Oceanside contains one delivery-only medical cannabis dispensary, but officials earlier this year said they supported implementing a program that would allow a small number of storefront dispensaries.
Carlsbad, which bans all cannabis activities, including medical delivery, will bring forward their own ordinance on Oct. 17 to bring their laws into compliance with SB 1186, city spokesperson Kristina Ray said.
The cities of Solana Beach and Del Mar will also need to bring forward similar ordinances before year’s end.
The city of Escondido is also highly restrictive of commercial cannabis activity, but the city code does not explicitly prohibit residents from having products delivered, according to Deputy City Manager Chris McKinney.
Within San Marcos, some believe current regulations on marijuana are excessively restrictive. Resident Carol Gendell questioned city officials about this topic at the Sept. 26 meeting.
“I would like to know why, in 2023, we are still debating whether we can have delivery, never mind the existence of cannabis stores in San Marcos?” Gendell inquired. “What is it that we are at this point concerned about, given that it is legal?”
San Marcos City Attorney Helen Holmes Peak said the city’s choice not to allow recreational marijuana is a legal policy decision at this time.
“Proposition 64 does not require the provision of recreational marijuana. SB 1186 does require the provision of medical marijuana delivery, which the city has done. It has met its required mandates, and the city has chosen to go no further,” Holmes Peak said.
Marijuana business attorney Ed Wicker is one of many advocates who has pushed North County leaders to pass more progressive policies around marijuana over the years. He said the importance of SB 1186 cannot be understated but that cities must go further.
“SB 1186 makes it very clear that patients have rights. However … it doesn’t go nearly far enough in allowing cannabis businesses across the board. It’s a very small positive step,” Wicker said. “Regulations need to be appropriate. Full-on prohibition is not a fair and reasonable regulation.”
Bans against recreational dispensaries also cause cities to miss out on millions of dollars in potential tax revenue and local residents to miss out on business opportunities, Wick added.
On the other side, opponents to recreational marijuana in North County argue that it can lead to increased use among youth and negative health outcomes.
“More laws legalizing marijuana or decriminalizing it result in increased exposure to secondhand marijuana smoke and vapor. Employees and patrons protected by current smoke-free laws may have their health put at risk through exposure to marijuana smoke and vaping,” North County resident Kathleen Lipit said at a recent Vista City Council meeting.
CORRECTION: This story was updated to clarify that there is one delivery-only medical cannabis dispensary in Oceanside, but storefront dispensaries are not currently allowed.