EL CAJON — San Diego County recently joined a growing list of places across the country where people can legally buy marijuana, when a county-approved dispensary opened just outside El Cajon in late July.
Local marijuana advocates are hailing the opening of the county’s only legal dispensary as the fulfillment of a long-time goal and something that helps catch San Diego up with much of the nation.
Twenty-three states allow the sale of medical marijuana, which the dispensary near El Cajon is allowed to sell, and two others — Colorado and Washington — allow the sale of recreational marijuana.
Many other cities and counties in California, one of the 23 states where medical marijuana is legal, have approved licensed dispensaries.
But until the legal dispensary opened near El Cajon six weeks ago, the only dispensaries operating in San Diego County were dozens of illegal shops that authorities have been struggling to shut down one by one.
“This is a very exciting time and a great step forward for people who need permanent and safe access to medicine that works,” said Eugene Davidovich, who leads the Alliance for Responsible Medicinal Access. “It clearly is possible for localities to regulate this issue where legitimate folks have access to the medicine they need and our communities remain protected and safe.”
Marijuana advocates also say the lack of fanfare and controversy when the new dispensary opened shows many San Diegans have accepted as a societal norm that people can legally buy marijuana, a drug that had been illegal for decades.
“Maybe the key thing to take away from this is how normal it’s become to buy marijuana,” said Lance Rogers, a longtime attorney for multiple dispensary operators. “It’s no longer about flag-waving and protests. It’s the possibility of a new industry, a new economy and new job opportunities.”
Critics have no problem with the particular dispensary, where the Sheriff’s Department says there haven’t been any issues so far with crime, loitering or other violations of the county’s relatively strict medical marijuana ordinance.
Critics complain, however, that allowing legal sales of marijuana anywhere will sharply increase usage, make it harder to keep pot away from young people and create social problems akin to those blamed on alcoholism and addiction to legal pain killers.
“We’re already dealing with alcohol, tobacco and pain killers,” said John Redman of the group Californians for Drug Free Youth. “Why do we want to take another drug and push it into the realm of commercialization?”
Advocates say marijuana plays an important medicinal role in many people’s lives, so it’s crucial for local governments to allow independent businesses to provide a continuous and reliable supply of legal pot to customers.
San Diego appears to be headed quickly in that direction.
The Outliers Collective, which opened in late July on the northern edge of El Cajon next to Gillespie Field, is expected to be joined by several more legal dispensaries this winter when the city of San Diego begins approving its first legal pot shops.
Jessica McElfresh, a local attorney who’s represented dispensary operators for years, said a legal pot shop opening locally shows the region is catching up with a fast-moving national trend.
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