Three city employees spend 40 hours a week scouring publications for advertisements, researching citizens’ complaints, and patrolling communities in search of illegal medical marijuana dispensaries.
A new report from the Development Services Department — to be presented to a city-council committee at a meeting on April 20 (4/20, also known as national "weed day") — includes other details that may be interesting to taxpayers.
San Diego mayor Kevin Faulconer appropriated $221,000 of funding in this current year's budget for the three full-time positions, which include two "zoning investors" and a "combination inspector dedicated to specialized enforcement of illegal marijuana dispensaries.”
The dispensary-busting crew has, according to the report, "enhanced the [department's] ability to provide quick response and investigation of identified illegal dispensary operations and referral to the City Attorney's office."
San Diego city officials have fought long and hard over the course of the past five years to tamp down the proliferation of medical marijuana dispensaries.
In April 2011, city officials passed the first of many medical marijuana ordinances. Patients and activist groups railed against the law, calling it California's most restrictive medical marijuana ordinance. The ordinance virtually outlawed dispensaries by mandating strict zoning and land-use requirements. After protests from patients’ rights groups, the city council repealed the ordinance.
From 2011 to 2014, without an ordinance in place, weed entrepreneurs rushed to open new dispensaries. In March 2014, city-council members adopted the current ordinance. The ordinance allows for 36 dispensaries citywide; currently there are 13, as long as they aren’t located within 1000 feet of playgrounds, public parks, child-care centers, residential care facilities, schools, churches, or other dispensaries.
During the 2011–2014 time period, the city attorney's office took a hard tack and went about stamping out illegal dispensaries. According to the report, the city has closed down 520 illegal shops since 2009.
The number of non-permitted dispensaries opening has also been reduced. From 2009 to 2012 there were 297 code-enforcement cases opened; 293 of those were closed. The city and city attorney's office were just as productive during the following three years, opening 249 new cases and subsequently closing 221 shops. And, with the new employees in place, this year 27 new cases were opened and, as of April 7, 6 dispensaries were shut down.
Despite the numerous staff hours and expensive litigation to force the dispensaries to shut down, there remain 21 illegal shops still open.
Councilmembers will hear the item during the 2 p.m. meeting.