SAN DIEGO (CN) — San Diego County supervisors on Wednesday banned medical and recreational marijuana businesses in unincorporated areas, joining a growing list of California counties doing the same despite voters legalizing recreational pot this past November.
Supervisors Greg Cox and Ron Roberts cast dissenting votes in the 3-2 decision, which was preceded by three hours of public comment from nearly 50 people.
San Diego County joined Los Angeles County, San Bernardino County and a growing list of other counties and cities throughout the state that have barred the selling and cultivation of marijuana for recreational and medical uses even though voters approved legalizing marijuana last November.
Proposition 64, however, allows local jurisdictions to ban the growing and selling of marijuana, and dozens of California cities and counties have done that.
The San Diego City Council, however, voted unanimously in January to allow 15 approved medical marijuana dispensaries to sell the weed for recreational purposes, with the possibility of approving more outlets later, and to consider the possibility of allowing commercial cultivation.
The County Planning Commission recommended to supervisors that rather than banning marijuana commerce, it limit the number of storefronts.
Medical marijuana dispensaries already operating in unincorporated areas will have five years after the revised ordinance takes effect on April 14 to close up shop.
Public testimony Wednesday was passionate on both sides of the issue, from concerned parents and teachers worried about young people getting increased, illegal access to pot, and from medical marijuana users who gave compelling testimony about how the medicine has helped them.
A 21-year-old and his parents told supervisors their lives were turned upside down when the college student was diagnosed with epilepsy and suffered two to eight seizures a day. Since taking medical marijuana, he said, he has been seizure-free for 15 months.
Medical professionals, including a nurse and doctor, implored the supervisors to consider the medical benefits they’d be denying thousands of county residents.
Many farmers, including a representative from the San Diego County Farm Bureau, opposed the ban, saying marijuana could be a boon for farmers struggling to make ends meet, including avocado farmers reeling from the drought who need a supplemental crop to cushion their incomes.
Owners and operators of licensed medical marijuana dispensaries presented facts and figures about medical marijuana’s effects on a variety of disorders, diseases and cancers.
One medical marijuana proponent said that by barring legal dispensaries, the supervisors were opening the door to “black market activities.”
Law enforcement officials have told the board there have been no documented incidents or problems related to licensed medical marijuana dispensaries.
One dispensary owner expressed frustration that despite “playing by the rules,” medical marijuana dispensary operators are “treated like criminals.”
“We played by every rule you put forth, and now you’re changing the game for us,” the owner said.
Other opponents of the ban said the supervisors were “imposing their moral compass” on constituents who had overwhelmingly voted in favor of Proposition 64 in November.
Proponents of the ban said Colorado, which legalized recreational marijuana in 2012, has since seen an increased crime rate, a higher rate of car accidents and a higher rate of youths using marijuana.
One mother said: “The normalization is making youth use go up. We’re raising a generation of stoners. This is not about medicine.”
Cox and Roberts both said they believed in medicinal benefits of marijuana and that the board was heading in the wrong direction by not choosing to regulate marijuana, rather than ban it.
Newly elected Supervisor Kristin Gaspar said voting in favor of the ban was “not a moral issue for me.”
Gaspar, who is the CFO of a physical therapy practice, said she’s seen hundreds of patients who said their lives have been improved by medical marijuana. But Gaspar said none of the patients she knows have brought up access issues and that most of them get their medicine through medical marijuana mail delivery.
The Board of Supervisors will formally adopt the ordinance March 22. It will take effect April 14.