San Diego County uses new strategy to close illegal pot shops

SAN DIEGO (KUSI) — They may not have won the war, but San Diego County Sheriff’s Deputies say they can claim a few more victories in the battle to shut down illegal pot shops.

Some of that progress is in Spring Valley, where law enforcement officers and inspectors with the county’s Planning and Development Services Department have started to go after landlords to enforce building code regulations.

The most recent case involved a dispensary at Campo Road and Bancroft, where the property owner did not respond to the county’s ten-day notice to kick their cannabis tenants out
Last Thursday, deputies and code inspectors went to the building to serve an abatement warrant.

Deputies boarded up and padlocked the property, with a notice tacked to the front door, indicating that no one will have access to the site until the proper permits are issued for a legal business use. In the past, the county would send cease-and-desist letters and impose fines, but often, the businesses would re-open their operations just days or even hours later.

By putting the pressure on building owners, Lieutenant Tom Seiver of the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department said this approach has led to more consistent results. In the last month, the county has been able to close down four illegal dispensaries through the ten-day notice of abatement.

One of those was a dispensary which was robbed at gunpoint in April. Seiver indicated that the dispensaries are a magnet for violent crime. In 2017, the Sheriff’s Department said eight illegal dispensaries in Spring Valley were robbed.

The county’s strategy of targeting landlords is winning good reviews from the legal cannabis industry.

Lincoln Fish, who runs the Outlier Collective in unincorporated El Cajon, close to Gillespie Field said the black market operators don’t pay taxes and sell a product that hasn’t been tested to guarantee the cannabis is free of contaminants and harmful pesticides.

He said the illegal shops are giving the legal cannabis industry a bad name.

“We’re trying to raise the profile. We’re trying to show a level of professionalism, that I think we need,” Fish said.

Lieutenant Seiver estimated there are about 12 illegal dispensaries currently operating in Spring Valley. He said the county was able to close down six shops so far in 2018.

“As we move on, pretty much every week we should see another dispensary being closed down,” Seiver said.

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