The Chula Vista City Attorney's Office said they are ramping up efforts to eliminate unlicensed marijuana dispensaries and prosecute those involved.
While this may sound simple, it is a step in a new direction after years of fighting the dispensaries through civil lawsuits, fees, and abatements.
The newly-formed Neighborhood Protection Unit (NPU), funded by a voter-approved half-cent sales tax, filed its first criminal complaints on Tuesday at the South Bay courthouse.
The complaints arose from search warrants recently executed at three illegal marijuana dispensaries, one on J Street and two on Main Street.
Six defendants including employees and security guards are being charged with misdemeanor offenses and could face jail time. Officials said the merchandise inside the store was impounded and destroyed.
It takes more time, energy, and resources than people think to shut down these unlicensed dispensaries,investigators said.
"We've been going after them with civil processes that are arduous and take a long time and frankly the attorneys in the field know how to play the game and drag things out,” Deputy City Attorney Nicole Carnahan said.
But criminal prosecutions move faster and Carnahan’s first few cases are in the works. Shutting down businesses used to take anywhere from six months to a year, but now it could happen within just a few months or even weeks, Carnahan said.
“Until we have legal businesses operating in Chula Vista, it really is something I'd encourage the community not to go into and purchase these products cause we don't know what's in them,” CVPD Lt. Dan Peak said.
Chula Vista represents a sizeable market, but the city has yet to approve any dispensaries as of October.
The city admits the process for bringing licensed dispensaries online has been more difficult than they thought: they said they received 133 applications for just 12 spots.
The city anticipates the first licensed commercial businesses will be open in 2020, but in the meantime all of the other businesses currently operating are considered illegal.
A customer at an illegal marijuana dispensary said the efforts may be futile.
“As soon as they get shut down, they open up another one,” customer Joe Jauregui said.