San Diego is creating a new Cannabis Permitting Bureau to step up enforcement of city regulations and potentially revoke permits of dispensaries and production facilities that repeatedly violate the rules. Writes The San Diego Union-Tribune
The bureau, with a nearly $1 million annual budget and nine full-time employees, will also centralize the permit approval and renewal process for the city’s cannabis businesses as the industry continues to steadily expand.
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the first wave of permitted cannabis production facilities has begun to open and more permitted dispensaries are beginning operations across the city.
Business boomed at San Diego dispensaries when they were declared essential operations during the early days of the pandemic lockdown, but industry leaders say sales have waned since then.
A key factor has been that many customers shifted away from in-store purchases toward deliveries, where permitted dispensaries face sharp competition from the region’s cannabis black market.
The industry also has face similar hurdles as other businesses implementing safety protocols, such as cleaning facilities and providing personal protective equipment for workers.
Cannabis businesses are not eligible for federal stimulus money because federal law, which still calls the drug marijuana, classifies it as illegal to buy, sell, produce or consume.
The city’s new Cannabis Permitting Bureau will have a dual goal of centralizing approval of cannabis businesses and cracking down on ones that violate their complex and highly restrictive city permits, said P.J. Fitzgerald, an assistant deputy director in the Development Services Department.
“We will be doing proactive code enforcement where necessary and revoking permits for what we call ‘bad actors’ if necessary,” she said.
That will be a significant shift for the city, which now regulates such businesses only in reaction to complaints.
Fitzgerald said it makes sense to treat cannabis businesses differently than other businesses with conditional use permits. Dispensaries are often compared to bars, and the city’s new approach will reflect that.
“I think it’s the nature of the use,” Fitzgerald said of the motive behind proactive enforcement. “It also aligns the city of San Diego with other cities and jurisdictions throughout the state and country.”
The local cannabis industry is welcoming the new bureau, particularly the city’s decision to dedicate more resources to approval and renewal of permits. The bureau will have an annual budget of $970,000.
The stepped-up enforcement also is getting positive reviews from the industry, which generally has strived to comply with city laws as part of an overall effort to legitimize businesses that were illegal only a few years ago.