Leaders of the San Diego marijuana industry say the city needs to accelerate efforts to shut down the city’s roughly 100 illegal delivery services, which have replaced illegal marijuana storefronts as the new black market for the drug.
The city’s 18 permitted dispensaries can legally deliver marijuana to customers, but there are dozens of other delivery services that operate quietly and illegally out of garages, apartments and single-family homes.
Operators of legal dispensaries consider them unfair competition, noting they haven’t paid fees for a city permit, they don’t pay taxes and their products aren’t subject to state testing for purity and quality.
San Diego police have successfully shut down 11 illegal delivery services during the past year, making 34 arrests and confiscating 230 pounds of marijuana and $60,000 in cash.
Industry leaders applaud those efforts, but say that it would take 10 years at that pace to eliminate all of the illegal delivery services. They are lobbying city officials to consider stepping up their campaign against illegal deliveries.
“It lacks resources – it lacks laws that can be used to more effectively and quickly knock these down,” Phil Rath, spokesman for a coalition of the city’s 18 legal dispensaries, told the City Council’s public safety committee this week. “It seems clear there is an opportunity for improvement.”
Lt. Mark Novak, who heads the Police Department’s narcotics unit, told committee members he is optimistic the city’s campaign will soon gain significant momentum.
Novak said that city efforts to shut down illegal storefronts had mixed results until a crackdown in 2016 turned the tide. He said the city didn’t need to shut them all down because greater attention scared many into closing voluntarily.
“We were closing many down, but at the same time they realized if they were going to operate in the city of San Diego they were going to be closed down, and they closed down themselves,” he said. “It was kind of like a domino effect.”
Novak, however, said delivery services appear to be much harder to shut down than storefronts because they aren’t stationary.
“Simply put, delivery services take more time to track and locate because they are mobile, they use multiple vehicles and multiple storage locations,” he said.
Novak said each investigation into an illegal delivery service begins with police getting a complaint, police observing a delivery or storage location or police finding an illegal service on weedmaps.com or in a local newspaper.
Police then must verify the business is an illegal delivery service and identify who owns and operates it. When that process is complete, arrests can be made and search warrants can be issued.
Rath, the industry spokesman, said he empathizes with the police.
“I think these folks do a commendable job every day with a very hard challenge,” he said.
But Rath noted that San Diego’s annual budget approved this summer doesn’t devote any revenue from the city’s new 5 percent tax on cannabis sales to stepped-up enforcement.
Novak told committee members he doesn’t think lack of resources is the problem, expressing confidence that all he needs is more time.
Novak said one of six investigation teams in the department’s Vice Division is devoted entirely to marijuana enforcement.
Some opponents of marijuana legalization say they doubt the city will ever be able to shut down all of the illegal delivery services. They note that many of those operations are run by people who previously operated illegal marijuana dispensaries, so they don’t need to advertise on the web or anywhere else because they have thousands of existing clients who previously were regulars at their storefronts.
Some local residents lobbied the committee to consider allowing more businesses to deliverymarijuana in San Diego than just the 18 permitted dispensaries. There aren’t enough local delivery services to meet demand, they said, noting that some of the 18 permitted dispensaries have not yet opened and that not all of the dispensaries that have opened offer deliveries.
Rath said some permitted dispensaries are exploring partnerships with delivery services to help meet local demand. He also said his organization, the United Medical Marijuana Coalition, is open to changes in local marijuana laws regarding deliveries.
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