East County Spring Valley Narcotics
The interior of an illegal dispensary that San Diego Sheriff’s deputies shut down. Photo credit: @SDSheriff, via Twitter

The Central Region Prevention Coalition empowers communities. We’re health advocates who champion public policies that build thriving, resilient neighborhoods from the inside out and the bottom up. We value collaboration, accountability, and transparency in our relationships with elected representatives and community partners.

Although preventing underage youth access to alcohol and drugs inspires our grassroots advocacy, it does not limit the scope of our mission: collaborating with parents, businesses, educators, and residents to elevate the quality of life in the neighborhoods across San Diego’s Central Region.

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We are not trying to shut down the local cannabis industry. We recognize that city and state permitted businesses can sell cannabis to persons of legal age.

In fact, our record reflects a laser focus on defending Central Region communities from cannabis industry bad actors, while advocating for common-sense regulations and sustained compliance.

At the same time, we have championed the creation of a level playing field for legal cannabis businesses that share our passion for building ​strong and equitable​ communities. Our even-handed approach​ to community organizing​ has sparked collaborations with a handful of cannabis outlets to develop responsible retail service and marketing programs grounded in industry best practices and evidence-based substance abuse prevention strategies​.

​With that said, to say that we are concerned about ​recently proposed amendments to the city of San Diego’s Cannabis Retail Ordinance is an understatement. We believe the proposal prioritizes industry profits over community health, dignity and resilience.

That’s because community voices and values were an afterthought when Councilmember Stephen Whitburn set in motion a plan –- backed by Big Cannabis lobbyists — allowing cannabis retailers to be located next to youth-sensitive spaces, such as parks, libraries, playgrounds, and residences while shrinking the distance between cannabis retailers and schools, child and daycare centers from 1,000 feet to 600 feet — just two city blocks.

Hatched in the final weeks of his chairmanship of the San Diego City Council’s Land Use and Housing Committee,​ Whitburn’s gambit played out on Dec. 9. That’s when the legislative timeline for gathering community input and convening members of the San Diego Planning Commission and the City of San Diego’s Land Use and Housing Committee to discuss and vote on ​Whitburn’s zoning amendment​s​ package was shoehorned into a single day. 

Why the rush? Why the secrecy? 

We believe that Whitburn​’s office ​fast tracked the ​proposal because they anticipated the community’s opposition to ​such a dramatic expansion of the cannabis industry’s footprint.

​What better way to avoid a showdown with the community than to unveil the proposed zoning amendments just 72 hours — the mandated window of public disclosure, before cramming two back-to-back public hearings on the measure — into one pivotal day?

Fortunately, neighborhood advocates from across the city sprang into action the moment we learned of Whitburn’s plan.

After listening to hours of public testimony opposing the proposed zoning amendments, planning commissioners delayed a formal vote, opting instead to approve a 60-day continuance of the measure. When the package came before the Land Use and Housing Committee that same afternoon, Whitburn’s motion to approve his plan failed to receive a second from a fellow committee member. Following the Planning Commission’s lead, the committee decided to continue the measure for 60 days.

Viewing this reprieve as an unexpected gift, neighborhood advocates charted a course of action over the holidays, determined to hit the ground running in the new year. Our public testimony calling on the city council to stop the clock on the cannabis outlet expansion hit its mark. Last week, Whitburn issued a memorandum announcing a plan to bring his proposal before the Community Planners Committee on Feb. 22 and the San Diego Planning Commission on March 24.

This brings us back to the San Diego City Council: the nine public officials elected by voters to give voice to their values and aspirations at city hall. We question how a councilmember can singlehandedly push for a seismic shift in the cannabis industry’s proximity to youth-sensitive community spaces in a vacuum of honest conversation with the families, educators, first responders, and healthcare professionals who will live with the consequences of his proposal for years to come?

This game of cat and mouse is not what representative democracy looks like.

We urge the San Diego City Council to stop the clock on Whitburn’s proposed changes to the Cannabis Retail Ordinance. Amendments to the law require a full, fair, and transparent airing by community members.

Big Cannabis should not be an exception to this rule.

SAY San Diego’s Central Region Prevention Coalition is a neighborhood advocacy network spanning San Diego’s Mid-City and Southeastern regions. Comprised of parents, youth, educators and businesses, the neighborhood alliance advocates for public policies that protect children from predatory industries and promote community health, equity, and resilience.