Chula Vista abounds with illegal pot shops, and the fastest way to get rid of them may be to make marijuana sales legal in the city.
“Sadly, the laws as they’re written in Chula Vista are a bit toothless,” says Councilman Mike Diaz.
Diaz says they have closed about 40 illegal shops, but it takes months to fine the owners and close the shop down.
“It's a little like Whack-a-Mole: You close one down. They go around the corner and they open up another one,” Kelly Bacon, Chula Vista Deputy City Manager said.
On Tuesday night, the Chula Vista City Council sharpened its teeth and voted 4-1 to put a cannabis tax on the November ballot.
If the measure is approved by voters it will legalize and tax marijuana sales in Chula Vista. Bacon says the city estimates it could make roughly $6 million a year through the cannabis tax.
Bacon says there will be a little over $2 million that will go toward enforcement, which would help close the illegal shops and punish the owners with prison time instead of the slap of the wrist they get now.
Southwest Patient Group, a legal dispensary in San Ysidro, wants to open a shop in Chula Vista even if it means paying a cannabis tax. Karim Assaf, who works for the dispensary, says following the rules is difficult and expensive. “This is the avenue we had to take in order to stay in the game,” he says.
It’s a game Councilman Diaz is also reluctantly playing. “In my office, there is a tremendous gnashing of teeth, but the reality is we have to look at all the facts and figure out what's best for the community,” he says.
Bacon says revenue from the cannabis tax could go to anything from potholes to pensions.