Medical marijuana shop. Image via Wikimedia Commons

City Attorney Jan Goldsmith said Wednesday his office is shifting tactics to combat “hardcore” operators of illegal marijuana dispensaries in San Diego.

In a presentation to the City Council’s Public Safety and Livable Neighborhoods Committee on enforcement efforts against illegal marijuana storefronts, Goldsmith said the operators and their lawyers have adjusted to current procedures used by the City Attorney’s Office.

He said hundreds of such operations have been shut down through civil enforcement actions that enforce city zoning laws.

A few, however, have repeatedly reopened at different locations. City staff said they’re aware of around 35 illegal dispensaries open in San Diego.

“We are today left with generally what I call the hardcore offenders,” Goldsmith said.

“The remaining offenders that are operating illegally — they sometimes have felons on the premises, often lack security, sometimes have weapons — and folks, these are not nice people. None of us want the illegal dispensaries in our neighborhoods,” he said. “No one should do business with these people.”

The city attorney said the city’s zoning laws allow legal dispensaries that include security and are run by people who have passed background checks. Eight are currently open and six others are in the process of starting to do business.

While San Diego has generally pursued enforcement through civil court judgments, the city has obtained at least six criminal convictions against illegal dispensary operators who disobeyed court orders, according to Goldsmith. He said more criminal prosecutions are on the horizon.

“Given the additional information we are receiving as to new tactics (by offenders), we will be engaging in criminal prosecutions beyond disobeying a court order,” Goldsmith told the council committee.

He said a team of lawyers is forming within his office to handle criminal investigations into operators and their landlords, and evidence of felonies will be referred to the District Attorney’s Office.

Councilwoman Myrtle Cole, who has received repeated complaints from constituents about illegal dispensaries in Southeast San Diego, said stronger penalties are necessary for offenders who repeatedly open new shops after being closed down.

“We need to look at anything we can do,” said Cole, who said the issue has become a big one in underserved communities.

A representative of legal dispensary operators said he is supportive of the city’s enforcement efforts.

–City News Service

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