April 23 2014 09:56 AM

City doesn't have much firepower in the fight against illegal dispensaries


As folks in the medical-cannabis industry line up for the first time to apply for permits to operate dispensaries in San Diego, officials are attempting to crack down on the dozens of illegal storefronts still open for business.

Neighborhood-code-compliance officers have opened 57 cases against dispensary owners, and four of those dispensaries have shut down, according to the Mayor's office. All dispensaries in the city are currently considered rogue operations.

"They are operating illegally, and the city is taking steps to close them down," said Craig Gustafson, a spokesperson for Mayor Kevin Faulconer, in an email. "When a complaint is made, code enforcement officers and/or police investigate."

If a dispensary owner refuses to shut down after a city warning letter is issued, the case is forwarded to the City Attorney's office for possible prosecution, Gustafson added.

Meanwhile, the city will begin taking applications on Thursday, April 24, for permits to run dispensaries under an ordinance passed by the City Council in February. While the new rules limit council districts to four legal dispensaries each, a long list of restrictions is expected to significantly reduce that number.

In order to secure the necessary conditional use permit, applicants must get approval from the local community planning group, a process that could take months. This transition to a regulated environment has advocates concerned that patient access could be temporarily but significantly limited.

"What's important is that the city moves forward as quickly as possible with these new rules," said Eugene Davidovich, co-founder of Alliance for Responsible Medicinal Access. "It's incumbent upon the City Council to think about the next six to nine months and where patients are supposed to go to get their medicine."

It's not clear how long it will take for the city to shut down the illegal dispensaries. Last fall, the Community Planners Committee (CPC) opposed the medical-cannabis ordinance largely because of a "lack of confidence" in the city's ability to enforce the proposed rules, CPC Chair Joe LaCava said.

"We are short code enforcement and police officers—evidenced by the fact that there are quite a few medical-marijuana facilities open and operating even though they're currently illegal," he said.

Of the city's 33 code-enforcement officers, two are assigned to medical-marijuana dispensaries, according to the city's Development Services Department.

"We have 20 dispensaries operating illegally within our district," City Councilmember Ed Harris, who represents District 2, told an audience at last week's Pacific Beach Town Council meeting. "That's something that I've already directed staff to get me answers for."

Write to joshuas@sdcitybeat.com or follow him on twitter at @jemersmith.


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