The city of Chula Vista, as part of its medical marijuana enforcement program, is cracking down on medical marijuana dispensaries that make their way to Chula Vista.
In the more than two years since a city ordinance has been implemented, seven dispensaries have opened, with five of them getting shut down. Deputy City Attorney Chance Hawkins said the city is in the process of closing the remaining two.
The dispensaries that have been shut down where located on Broadway, Third Avenue and Main Street.
In 2011, the City Council passed an ordinance prohibiting medical marijuana dispensaries which states: “The operation of a medical marijuana dispensary, as defined in this chapter, is prohibited in the city of Chula Vista, and no person or association of persons, however formed, shall operate or locate a medical marijuana dispensary in the city.”
Hawkins defines a medical marijuana dispensary as a retail store where marijuana is sold.
Hawkins said these dispensaries unexpectedly end up in Chula Vista without the city knowing until they learn about their existence from the Chula Vista Police Department, code enforcement or a citizen reporting it.
Attorney Mark-Robert Bluemel, who sat on a task force for the city of San Diego to draft an ordinance to allow dispensaries, said he is aware that Chula Vista has an ordinance that prohibits dispensaries in the city.
He said, however, that the city should repeal its law.
“I think the patients in Chula Vista deserve action,” he said. “Politicians should get behind this.”
Bluemel said voters in 1996 voted to make medical marijuana dispensaries legal in California under the Compassionate Use Act of 1996.
He said if the state allows these businesses to open up, cities in the state should too.
“Without dispensaries the city is actually supporting illegal drug deals,” he said. “If someone needs medical marijuana they will find a way to get it.”
Hawkins said although dispensaries are banned in Chula Vista it is not a crime to operate one in California.
“It’s non-criminal in nature,” Hawkins said. “It exempts criminal prosecution because technically medical marijuana use is legal under California law.”
Within that prohibition, Hawkins said there’s also an exemption for health care facilities for primary caregivers, so there are ways that people can provide medical marijuana.
“It doesn’t prohibit growing or anything like that,” he said. “It just prohibits storefront dispensaries.”
Once the city finds out about the operation of a medical marijuana dispensary, a procedure is effected to get rid of the business.
Under the medical marijuana enforcement program, Hawkins said the City Attorney’s Office first sends a cease and desist letter to the business owner, then refers the dispensary to code enforcement, which then follows up with a notice of violation giving the dispensary 30 days to shut down.
If the dispensary operator doesn’t comply, the city issues penalties and fines that will ultimately be assessed to the property owner.
The fines can range up to $1,000 a day, Hawkins said.
Hawkins said the enforcement program has been successful.