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Pot shop enforcement in transition, city says

Zoning regulations affecting San Diego medical marijuana dispensaries took effect March 27, but some dispensaries in violation of the new rules have yet to be closed.

Katie Keach, deputy chief of staff to San Diego City Council President Todd Gloria, said that's not because the city is neglecting the recently adopted codes.

Rather, she said, it's because the codes are — at least for now — being more passively enforced based on complaints received. City code enforcement officers aren't actively looking for every establishment in violation to tell them it's time to close shop.

But the city's Development Services representative, Lynda Pfiefer, said there are several ways code enforcement officers find violators.

"CES [code enforcement] normally investigates marijuana dispensaries on a complaint basis, but will open cases as marijuana dispensaries are identified during the regular course of our work," Pfiefer said. "This may happen while performing Internet research, observing an advertisement, seeing the dispensary while in the field."

Within the boundaries of Gloria's district, 12 properties have been identified as dispensaries in operation, according to the online dispensary-finder Weedmaps.com. District 3 was pointed at during City Council discussion of the ordinance as one district that might not permit any dispensaries under the new rules, because of its high volume of churches, parks and schools the dispensaries must be a certain distance from.

Of the 12 Weedmaps-identified properties in Gloria's district, the city has either attempted, completed or begun an inspection on at least eight of nine locations confirmed by the city, Pfeifer said. A case is set to be opened on the ninth confirmed property. The city's inspection of one of two identified dispensaries inside downtown proper revealed a now-vacant property.

Information provided by the city shows it has already determined a few of the District 3 dispensaries to be in violation of the ordinance.

The facilities not only have to maintain a 1,000-foot buffer from churches, public parks, child care centers, playgrounds, city-owned and operated libraries, minor-oriented facilities, schools and residential care facilities, but also from other dispensaries.

A notice of violation, for example, has been issued to the operators of the North Park dispensary Organic Roots on University Avenue, and notices of violation are being prepared for Crown Patients Group on Third Avenue in Bankers Hill, and Park Boulevard Holistic Collective in North Park.

"It's a matter of catching up to the ordinance," Keach said. "It's not a matter that they've been given permits. It's a matter that they are operating illegally."

Green Cellar on First Avenue in Bankers Hill is a short distance from both the noticed Crown Patients Group and Washington Elementary School. A radius-mapping tool shows Green Cellar to be within 1,000 feet of both landmarks, but Pfeifer said the city's inspection was denied.

An employee at Green Cellar declined to comment, or refer questions to someone who would, when contacted by phone. The city said it's attempting another inspection.

Other dispensary locations on Weedmaps.com, both outside Gloria's district and within it, appear to be in violation of at least the 1,000-foot rules as they pertain to either Balboa Park or the distances between each other.

Through the roughly six months that Gloria was acting mayor, Keach said, his office made clear to dispensary operators that they were not allowed to operate. Even though many were closed down during that time, the enforcement was not the top priority of code compliance officers, Keach said, so many of them remain.

"It is going to take some time to get rid of the bad actors while people are applying for permits," Keach said. "It will be done; it's just going to be this odd transition time. If they applied for permits at those locations, they would not be given a permit. I'm guessing they're not actually applying for permits in the locations they know they cannot have."

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City of San Diego Executive(s):

Sherri Lightner

  • Council President Pro Tem

Kevin Faulconer

  • Mayor

Todd Gloria

  • Council President

Myrtle Cole

  • City Council Member

Mark Kersey

  • City Council Member

Lorie Zapf

  • City Council Member

Scott Sherman

  • City Council Member

David Alvarez

  • City Council Member

Marti Emerald

  • City Council Member

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