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City Council Tackles Illegal Marijuana Dispensaries In San Diego

Recently harvested marijuana buds dry at a farm near Garberville, Calif., Oct. 12, 2016.
Associated Press
Recently harvested marijuana buds dry at a farm near Garberville, Calif., Oct. 12, 2016.

The City Council's Public Safety and Livable Neighborhoods Committee Wednesday will consider a handful of proposals designed to toughen enforcement against illegal marijuana dispensaries in San Diego, including a scheme under which customers could be targeted for buying pot from an unlicensed facility.

The continued existence of pot shops that operate without the required permits in many parts of the city presents a challenge to the quality of life in San Diego, said Councilman Chris Cate, who chairs the committee.

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The city has established guidelines for establishing legal dispensaries selling marijuana for both medical and recreational uses. Those that don't follow the procedures are considered to be operating illegally. One of Cate's recommendations is to make it an infraction to knowingly purchase marijuana products from an unlicensed dispensary.

"Illegal marijuana outlets still attract a significant customer base because they can sell products that are cheaper than legal retail outlets," Cate wrote in a memo to his committee colleagues.

"This makes it lucrative for illegal operations to exist," he said. "The city should explore the idea of placing a level of responsibility on those who knowingly purchase marijuana at unlicensed and unpermitted retail outlets."

He said demand for illegal dispensaries will go down if a "disincentive" to patronize them exists. Under his proposal, fines could start at $250 and escalate for future offenses. The municipal code could be amended to require legal dispensaries to post signs at entrances and doorways that display their permitted status, so customers aren't confused.

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Cate equated the proposal to a state law that bars the sales and purchases of alcoholic beverages between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m. — both the establishment and buyer are subject to enforcement.

Other regulatory options suggested by the councilman include declaring illegal dispensaries to be a public nuisance, which would fast-track the abatement process and give the City Attorney's office a legal tool for prosecution, and shutting off water and electrical services to shops that refuse to cease operations after numerous warnings, citations and city-issued orders.

He also proposed requiring dispensary operators to obtain a police permit, just like retailers of tobacco products.

At the meeting, the city's Code Enforcement Division is scheduled to make a presentation that says five cases were underway against marijuana dispensaries as of May 8 for various violations.