Socially Equitable Cannabis Program

Planning & Development Services Components

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About The Program 

The County of San Diego is developing the Board-directed Socially Equitable Cannabis Program (Program). The Program would allow commercial medicinal and adult-use cannabis operations in the unincorporated area of the County. The Program is needed to stop the operation of illegal and unlicensed dispensaries, advance social equity, and ensure all state regulations are followed. 

As of October 2021, the Board adopted ordinance amendments to allow the five existing cannabis dispensaries that were in operation in the unincorporated County prior to the County’s 2017 prohibition on new medical facilities to continue operations and sell commercial medicinal and adult-use cannabis. Currently, no new dispensaries or other cannabis operations are permitted under the existing ordinances. 

The County is committed to the development of a Program that facilitates greater equity in business ownership and employment in the regulated cannabis market by reducing the barriers to entry for those who have been impacted by cannabis related criminalization. 

Planning and Development Services-Led Components

The Program is made up of several different components. Each component is led by one of three County business groups: Land Use and Environmental Group (LUEG), Finance and General Government Group (FG3), and Public Safety Group (PSG). Planning & Development Services is the lead on the development of four Program components as described below. For information about all the Program components, please visit the Program Main webpage. 

Regulatory Code Update

The Regulatory Code is a set of policies that guides various functions in the County. The Regulatory Code amendments developed for the Program will outline the requirements for running a medicinal or adult-use cannabis commercial business in the unincorporated County including retail, cultivation, manufacturing, distribution, and testing. Examples of regulatory ordinances include rules about what a retail operations signage can look like, what kind of security cannabis facilities must have, and information about who can get a license and how the license can be acquired.

Zoning Ordinance Update 

Zoning ordinances regulate land uses in the unincorporated (non-city) portions of the County. Zoning ordinances make sure that activities happen in places suited for them and protect sensitive locations and individuals. The Zoning Ordinance amendments developed for the Program will designate where cannabis operations can take place. 

Licensing & Permitting System

The Licensing & Permitting System will provide the organizational structure and procedures to obtain the required local license(s) and permit(s) to open and operate commercial cannabis businesses. A corresponding fee structure will be established as part of the System’s development.

Environmental Review 

A Program Environmental Impact Report (PEIR) will be developed to analyze and report potential environmental impacts from the proposed Program and evaluate possible mitigations under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). A PEIR is a type of EIR allowed under CEQA that is used to evaluate a plan or program that has multiple components or actions that are related either geographically, through application of rules or regulations, or as logical parts of a long-term plan. PDS is the lead agency working with environmental experts to complete a PEIR. The information gathered in the PEIR process will inform the ordinance amendments to protect local environmental resources and the health of County residents.

Program Timeline

Below are the estimated timelines for each PDS component:
1 Regulatory Code update Spring 2022 - Summer 2024
2 Zoning Ordinance Update Spring 2022 - Summer 2024
3 Program EIR Summer 2022 - Summer 2024
4 Permitting and Licensing System Summer 2022 - Summer 2024
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