Kudos to the San Diego County Sheriff Department for its recent raids on five illegal cannabis shops in Chula Vista, Lakeside and Spring Valley, which led to six arrests and the seizure of $1.1 million and 3,000 pounds of marijuana. Illegal shops don’t pay state taxes or fees or for costly product packaging and testing, allowing them to sell cannabis at nearly 40% less than the legal stores that were allowed to open in 2018. This has led to illegal shops selling more than twice as much cannabis as legal shops and to the state realizing far less tax revenue than it anticipated when voters passed Proposition 64 in 2016, legalizing recreational marijuana use.
Despite this new push, it is dumbfounding that San Diego County and the rest of California in general have not had the success that the city of San Diego has had in addressing this issue more holistically. In 2016, then-City Attorney Jan Goldsmith began targeting the landlords of the illegal dispensaries, not just their owners, in recognition of the fact that the previous whack-a-mole tactic of using civil fines against the owners was ineffective because the illegal shops made so much money that fines were seen as just another business expense. By 2017, illegal stores in the city were mostly wiped out.
Since then, many law enforcement and regulatory agencies, including the county District Attorney’s Office, say they have embraced San Diego’s tactic. But they’re not seeing the same results, prompting the Legislature to consider a bill giving authorities new ways to target illegal shops.
This shouldn’t be hard to copy. Every time an illegal shop is targeted, its landlord should be targeted. If this were done, it wouldn’t take long for it to establish a powerful deterrent to such enterprises — boosting a fledgling industry and state tax revenue.