With the number of legally operating dispensaries selling marijuana for medical use growing in San Diego, data collected by NBC 7 Investigates shows the number of unlicensed dispensaries also continues to expand.
“It’s like the wild, wild west,” said David Blair, a professor at San Diego State University. He’s also the first business owner to obtain a legal medical marijuana dispensary permit issued by the City of San Diego.
NBC 7 Investigates mapped where marijuana operations are permitted and prohibited, as well as dispensary locations in the county.
According to the data, there are 71 marijuana businesses operating in San Diego County; 51 of those are unlicensed, while 20 are operating legally with a license. NBC 7 Investigates also found six dispensaries are operating within 1,000 feet of a school.
To view the map, click here.
“Cities are having difficulty, not in operating dispensaries but in shuttering the illegal ones,” Blair said.
According to Blair, the problem comes down to funding.
NBC 7 Investigates reached out to every city in San Diego County to see how many dispensaries have been closed down in the past five years and how the cities are funding enforcement of marijuana operation laws.
Officials with every city said they do not allocate a specific amount of money for investigating possible illegal dispensaries. Instead, officials said the funds come from general fund dollars if money is needed.
To see how cities responded, click here.
“The problem is the illegal [dispensaries] have a lot of extra cash to stall the process, pay the daily fees, and just continue on,” Blair said. “These illegal dispensaries that continue to operate don’t pay taxes. They don’t pay their business taxes, they don't pay employee taxes, they're pretty much tax-free so they can afford to spend a lot of money for an attorney to protect their interests and that has an effect of slowing down the process in cities closing them down. It's an unfair playing field currently and hopefully by 2018, mid-2018, it stops and it changes.”
California lawmakers have estimated when recreational sales become legal, the marijuana industry has a projected value of $7 billion with state and local governments eventually collecting $1 billion a year in taxes.
Blair said he hopes that in the coming year cities will use the funds that come from licensed marijuana business taxes towards shutting down unlicensed dispensaries.
“You want to close all the illegal dispensaries so you give a fair shot for those that have gone through the legal and civil process,” he said.
The map created by NBC 7 Investigates includes data from the website WeedMaps.com, a popular mobile app and website, that according to its website, is designed to help patients “find cannabis storefronts, doctors, and deals.”
To learn more about how the map was created, click here.