Pubdate: Thu, 14 Aug 2014
Source: San Diego Union Tribune (CA)
Copyright: 2014 Union-Tribune Publishing Co.
Note: Seldom prints LTEs from outside it's circulation area.
Author: David Garrick
Page: B-1


Councilman wants updates on illegal dispensaries and time frame for 
closing them

Frustrated that San Diego continues to struggle with shutting down 
illegal marijuana dispensaries, a city councilman wants to accelerate 
the process by making it more transparent.

Councilman Ed Harris, whose district includes coastal communities 
where many of the city's roughly 100 illegal pot shops operate, wants 
city officials to issue monthly reports listing the addresses of all 
known dispensaries and what actions have been taken to shut them down.

"We want a flow chart of the process and an estimate of how long they 
expect it to take with each dispensary," Harris said. "The goal is to 
clarify the process for me and for residents, so we know what needs 
to be done."

The proposal comes as the abundance of illegal dispensaries has begun 
adding turbulence to the already complex approval process facing 
applicants trying to open the city's first legal pot shops.

Part of that process, which began in April, is getting the blessing 
of neighborhood leaders who serve on community planning groups. But 
multiple planning groups have said frustration about illegal 
dispensaries in their area makes them less likely to embrace the 
legal dispensaries being proposed.

In both Pacific Beach, whereas many as 25 illegal dispensaries 
operate, and Mira Mesa, where there are roughly half a dozen, 
community leaders say the illegal pot shops are tainting the process 
of approving legal ones.

City officials conceded this spring that it's unlikely they'll be 
able to shut down all of the illegal dispensaries before the legal 
ones begin opening this fall.

Employees in the City Attorney's Office and the code compliance 
division say the process is extremely complex and that many 
dispensary operators reopen elsewhere shortly after getting shut down.

The number of dispensaries sharply increased when Mayor Bob Filner in 
2013 suspended enforcement of zoning laws that don't allow for 
dispensaries, forcing the city to play catch up when enforcement 
resumed shortly after Filner resigned about a year ago.

The city becomes aware of dispensaries by tips, code compliance 
officers spotting them and frequent checking of and 
other websites that list the shops.

City officials then must determine who operates the dispensary and 
who owns the building before they're able to issue a notice of 
violation and forward the case to the city attorney.

Once there, attorneys try to obtain a court order to shut the 
dispensary down, which requires a variety of documents. The process 
is especially difficult, city officials say, when the operator of the 
business doesn't own the building.

"The fact we have so many operating is not based on a lack of effort 
from anybody on the city's side," Harris said. "It's a complicated 
process, and there's so much money being made that the operators 
really don't want to close down. It's in their interest to tie us up 
in litigation."

Harris said he hopes greater transparency might help build momentum. 
He's also lobbied for additional code officers to help identify more 
dispensaries, but said that will need to wait until a new city budget 
is adopted next spring.

Advocates for medical marijuana say they hope the illegal shops shut 
down once legal ones begin opening. In the interim, they've expressed 
support for the illegal dispensaries so patients can have uninterrupted access.

Michael Giorgino, a spokesman for the City Attorney's Office, said 
his office has 40 active dispensary cases, with 14 of those already 
closed and 26 still operating.

The city's code compliance division is in the process of 
investigating 29 more dispensaries that they haven't forwarded to the 
city attorney, Deputy Director Mike Richmond said.

A spokesman for Mayor Kevin Faulconer directed questions about 
Harris' proposal to the City Attorney's Office. Giorgino said it 
would be feasible to issue monthly reports if city leaders request them.


Estimated number of illegal marijuana dispensaries in the city of San Diego
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom