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What to expect when recreational marijuana goes on sale on Jan. 1

We spoke to everyone from state officials to marijuana retailers to police so you know what to expect on January 1st when recreational marijuana goes into effect in California.

Recreational marijuana is scheduled to go on sale at licensed stores in California on January 1st, or shortly thereafter, depending on the location.

Here’s what you need to know about buying and using so-called “adult use” cannabis.

Q: Where can I buy recreational marijuana?

A: You’ll only be able to buy it at about a dozen licensed stores in San Diego. The county and its other cities have banned the sale or cultivation (or both) of adult-use cannabis. More than 70 percent of counties and cities statewide have done the same thing.

Voters made recreational marijuana legal when they approved Proposition 64 in November 2016. But the law allows communities to ban cannabis farms and stores. Many did. And some may change their position if things go well in places like San Diego.

Q: Where are the marijuana stores located in San Diego?

A: It appears that you’ll be able to buy cannabis everywhere from Bay Park to Mission Valley to San Ysidro.

Earlier this year, the city issued 17 licenses for medical marijuana dispensaries. Eleven of those stores are now operating, and all or most of them are expected to receive state approval to sell recreational marijuana, effective January 1st.

We’ve included a list of the 11 stores below.

Keep in mind, you have to be at least 21 to buy recreational cannabis. And you’ll need a valid government ID. So bring your driver’s license.

Q: How much marijuana can I purchase?

A: You can buy one ounce of adult use cannabis per day. If you’re a medical patient and have proper authorization from a doctor, you can buy up to 8 ounces per day.

Q: There are a lot of strains of marijuana. Will I be able to sample them at the marijuana stores?

A: You cannot smoke on the premises, or in most public places, especially those located near schools and day care centers.

Q: Can I have a delivery service bring recreational marijuana to my home?

A: Some stores say they plan to deliver recreational marijuana. But they’re still reviewing the rules.

Q: Is it legal to transport recreational marijuana in my vehicle?

A: Yes — provided that the container it comes in remains sealed. You should keep the cannabis in your trunk while it is being transported. And remember that you cannot transport cannabis across state lines, even to places like Nevada, where recreational marijuana is legal. It’s also illegal to transport marijuana into Mexico and Canada.

Q: Can I buy marijuana with a credit card?

A: No. The sale of cannabis is against federal law. That means that banks generally won’t do business with marijuana companies. So the stores are forced to operate as a largely cash-only business. Typically, you’ll find a cash machine at the store, so that shouldn’t be an issue.

Q: Do the stores sell anything other than buds of marijuana?

A: Yes. Marijuana has been made part of everything from topical creams and tinctures to liquids and concentrates. You can also buy edible marijuana. Cannabis has been infused in candy, popcorn, ice cream, cookies, sushi, drinks — virtually anything you can think of.

You should be careful with edibles. Some people get high when there’s only a tiny amount of marijuana in food. Other people don’t get stoned unless there’s a significantly larger concentration.

And you should know that the effect of the marijuana doesn’t kick in until 30, 60, even 90 minutes after it is consumed. So go slowly. Give the marijuana time to take effect.

We also suggest that you don’t leave edibles laying around your home. Much of it comes in packaging that looks like any non-marijuana product. It would be easy for a person to make a mistake.

Q: This sounds kind of overwhelming. Where do I turn if I have a question?

A: Usually, the stores use “budtenders” to sell marijuana. These are people who are supposed to have an advanced understanding of cannabis. Many do. Some don’t. It can be hard to tell; budtenders aren’t required to go through a certification process. You may want to talk to more than one budtender.

If you feel that you don’t understand what you’re buying, don’t buy it.

LIST OF LICENSED RETAILERS

On January 1, 2018, licensed retailers will be permitted to sell recreational marijuana. The list below identifies the stores that were awarded medical marijuana licenses by the city of San Diego. All of these stores were expecting to receive a state license to sell recreational cannabis by January 1st. You may want to call ahead to make sure that they’re properly licensed to sell so-called adult-use marijuana.

Operating two stores, one of which just recently opened in Mission Valley, Apothekare boasts knowledgeable staff members, an extensive selection of premium flowers, edibles, extracts and accessories. Have questions? Check out the blog on the company’s website for video tutorials and other helpful articles like “A guide to getting high with the fam” during the holidays.

Kearny Mesa: 5125 Convoy St., 858.836.1303; Mission Valley: 3455 Camino Del Rio South, 619.701.6036, apothekare.com

Golden State Greens, Point Loma

Originally opened in 2015, it was only the second legally permitted medical marijuana dispensary within the city of San Diego. Back then, owner Adam Knopf said to The San Diego Union-Tribune, “We are committed to being good neighbors and will demonstrate that our business will have a positive impact.” The dispensary is located in an industrial area called Point Loma Patient Consumer Cooperative and it carries various strains of cannabis, extracts, cartridges, edibles, beverages, topicals, pre-rolls (joints) and miscellaneous gear.

3452 Hancock St., Midway District, 619.268.8035, plpcc.org

A Green Alternative

Established as a medical marijuana dispensary, A Green Alternative has been providing services with “the mission of creating professional, Safe-Access and lab-tested medical marijuana.” The dispensary offers various cannabis strains, CBD products, pre-rolls, concentrates, cartridges, extracts, edibles, drinks, tinctures, topicals and gear including rolling papers, batteries, grinders and eye drops.

Harbor Collective

Offers more than 100 strains and a range of CBD products, along with a variety of edibles, extracts and other accessories.

2405 Harbor Dr., Barrio Logan, 619.841.2045, harbormmcc.com

The Healing Center San Diego

Carries a variety of strains from Bread Farms in Southern California, cartridges, edibles, extracts, pre-rolls, topicals and merchandise. THCSD boasts “twice-tested” products to make sure they’re accurately labeled for potency, use of pesticides and presence of microbial bacteria. “If we won’t use it, we won’t sell it,” the website says.

3703 Camino del Rio South, Mission Valley, 858.324.2420, thcsd.com

Mankind Cooperative

This dispensary touts customer empowerment by making products available in an open, explorative environment, rather than behind lock and key. Available on site are more than 40 vendors, various strains, extracts, edibles, topicals, grow seeds, pre-rolls and gear.

7128 Miramar Rd., Suite 10, Mira Mesa, 858.247.0953, mankindcoop.com

Southwest Patient Group

According to the dispensary website, “From Diego to the Bay, we’ve connected with the best geneticists, indo growers and champion extract artists that the world’s ever known.” Brands carried here include Kiva Confections, Moon Edibles, Alpine, Guerilla Farms, American Flower, Good Stuff Tonics and many more.

658 E. San Ysidro Blvd., San Ysidro, 619.663.6337, southwestpatientgroup.com

Torrey Holistics

Permitted as a medical marijuana dispensary since 2015, Torrey Holistics carries products for all budgets and dietary restrictions, including organic, gluten free, vegan and non-GMO. To date the company has participated in multiple community events including raising more than $35,000 for Weed for Warriors Project benefiting veterans.

10671 Roselle St., Sorrento Valley, 858.558.1420, torreyholistics.com

The Tree House Balboa

In the space where the Balboa Avenue Cooperative medical cannabis dispensary was located, this shop offers multiple flower varieties, pre-rolls, various accessories including vaporizers, cartridges and rolling papers, Dr. Raw Organics edibles and products, pet products, glass pieces and cleaners, topicals, oils, drinks and more.

8863 Balboa Ave., Ste. E, Kearny Mesa, 858.598.5983, balboammc.webjoint.com

A high-end dispensary that focuses on sales of high-quality cannabis, concentrates, edibles, tinctures, CBD oils and infused beverages. The company’s website notes their knowledgeable staff and provides an online area called “Good Reads” to help educate consumers. The shop opened in March 2017 as a medical cannabis dispensary and recently was voted Best Cannabis Store Atmosphere in the Southern California area in the Dope Magazine Industry Awards.

1028 Buenos Ave., Morena, 619.275.2235, urbnleaf.com

Editor’s note: As of print time, only two locations had been granted state licenses, but all city-licensed locations were expected to receive state licenses by Jan. 1. To confirm a location is able to sell recreational marijuana, it is advised to call ahead.

San Diego Union-Tribune reporter David Garrick contributed to this story

Cannabis Information

As mandated by the passage of The Control, Regulate and Tax Adult Use of Cannabis Act (Prop 64) on Nov. 8, 2016, San Diego Municipal Code (SDMC) regulations and ordinances now outline the City’s definition and requirements for cannabis businesses, including Cannabis Outlets, Cannabis Production Facilities and testing facilities. The City of San Diego has adopted local laws authorizing cannabis businesses within the City limits.

Cannabis Equity Program:

The City of San Diego’s Cannabis Equity Program will be designed to lower barriers to cannabis licensing for those hardest hit by the War on Drugs to promote equitable access and ownership opportunities. The Cannabis Equity Program will be developed and implemented in the following phases:

    PHASE 1 – Submission of Equity Grant Applications to Fund Assessment, Stakeholder Engagement/Outreach and Program Development. COMPLETED.

  1. Goals and Policies, Recommendations and Strategies
  2. Final Equity Plan completed by September 2022
  3. City Council Review – September 2022
  • PHASE 4: Implementation – Winter 2022
  1. Equity Applicant Education and Training
  2. Technical Assistance
  3. Potential City and State funding, including grant opportunities
  • PHASE 5: Monitoring and Reporting
  1. Annual reports to Council Committee on cannabis equity program progress

Cannabis Production Facilities:

These facilities include operations involving:

  • Agricultural raising, harvesting and processing of cannabis;
  • Wholesale distribution and storage of cannabis and cannabis products; and/or
  • Production of goods from cannabis and cannabis products is consistent with the California departments of Food and Agriculture, Consumer Affairs and Public Health.

Restrictions

  • Facilities are limited to a maximum of 40 Citywide.
  • Retail sales and testing are prohibited.
  • Must be located:
    • 1,000 feet from resource- or population-based city parks, churches, childcare centers, playgrounds, libraries, minor-oriented facilities, residential care facilities and schools; and
    • 100 feet from residential zones.

    Permit Process
    A Conditional Use Permit is required in accordance with a Process Three decision by the Hearing Officer. The Hearing Officer’s decision is appealable to the Planning Commission. For more details, including a summary of the Facility permitting process, and links to helpful information, refer to Information Bulletin 171.

    Pending Applications
    The List of Pending Cannabis Production Facility Applications includes Cannabis Production Facility Conditional Use Permit applications that have been deemed complete and are currently in review as of the first business day of the month. For more detailed information, search for the status of each project.

    Permitted Locations
    This map identifies Cannabis Production Facilities’ addresses with approved Conditional Use Permit numbers, associated discretionary project numbers, and dates of approval.

    Cannabis Outlets are establishments (retail, medicinal or combination) operating with a Conditional Use Permit where cannabis, cannabis products and cannabis accessories are sold to the public.

    Restrictions

    • Outlets are limited to a maximum of four per Council District, 36 citywide.
    • Must be located:
      • 1,000 feet from resource- or population-based city parks, other outlets, churches, childcare centers, playgrounds, libraries, minor-oriented facilities, residential care facilities and schools; and
      • 100 feet from residential zones.

      Permit Process
      A Conditional Use Permit (CUP) is required in accordance with a Process Three decision by the Hearing Officer. The Hearing Officer’s decision is appealable to the Planning Commission. For more details, including a summary of the Outlet permitting process, and links to helpful information, refer to Information Bulletin 170.

      Pending Applications
      The Cannabis Outlets Status Report includes Cannabis Outlet Conditional Use Permit applications that have been approved, currently in review, and under CUP amendment process.

      Permitted Locations
      This map identifies the addresses of Cannabis Outlets with approved Conditional Use Permit numbers, associated discretionary project numbers, and dates of approval.

      Cannabis Testing Facilities:

      Testing for scientific research (including cannabis testing) that leads to the development of new products and processes is allowed as an Industrial Use. Testing Labs are permitted in limited commercial and industrial zones. Because these types of uses are allowed by right in specified zones and do not require the issuance of a development permit, these applications are not specifically tracked.

      General Restrictions:

      • Deliveries are permitted as an accessory use only from Cannabis Outlets with a valid Conditional Use Permit.
      • Curbside pickups are temporarily allowed for Outlets.
      • Sale and distribution of cannabis and cannabis by-products at special events are prohibited.
      • The outdoor growing of personal residential cannabis is prohibited.
      • No smoking in public places or on business premises is allowed.

      Legislative Timeline:

      March 25, 2014 – The City adopts Ordinance No. O-20356, which implements zoning regulations for MMCCs.

      Nov. 8, 2016 – San Diego voters pass Measure N, Non-Medical Cannabis Tax, which imposed a gross receipts tax on non-medical cannabis businesses that operate or provide services within the City. The tax applies to non-medical cannabis business activities, including but not limited to transporting, manufacturing, cultivating, packaging or retail sales. Businesses are initially taxed at a rate of 5 percent of monthly gross receipts and will increase to 8 percent on July 1, 2019. This increase cannot exceed 15 percent of gross receipts. Learn more at the Cannabis Business Tax web page.

      Nov. 9, 2016 – Control, Regulate and Tax Adult Use of Marijuana Act becomes law and allows for recreational cannabis sales in California by January 2018.

      Feb. 22, 2017 – The City adopts Ordinance No. O-20793, which replaces the MMCC use with a new retail sales use category, Cannabis Outlet. It became effective in areas of the City of San Diego outside of the Coastal Overlay Zone on April 12, 2017, and within the Coastal Overlay Zone on Oct. 12, 2017.

      Sept. 11, 2017 – Ordinance No. O-20859 is introduced to regulate the cannabis industry relative to commercial cultivation, manufacturing, storage and distribution of medical and recreational cannabis and cannabis products and to allow by-right cannabis testing labs. It became effective on Nov. 17, 2017, in areas of the City of San Diego outside of the Coastal Overlay Zone, and on Feb. 8, 2018, in areas located within the Coastal Overlay Zone.

      Ordinances:

      • Ordinance No. O-20793 – Related to Cannabis Outlets
      • Ordinance No. O-20858 – Related to MPFs and the distribution and transport of Cannabis and Cannabis products
      • Ordinance No. O-20859 – Related to testing and MPFs
      • Ordinance No. O-21163 – Related to cannabis regulations as part of the 12th Update (Phase Two) of the Land Development Code
      • Ordinance No. O-21174 – Related to restricting the billboard advertising of cannabis and cannabis products

      Cannabis Code Updates:

      • 2019-10-01 Memo on Cannabis Permitting
      • 2019-09-26 DSD Cannabis Permitting Presentation to Planning Commission
      • Ordinance No. O-21163 – Cannabis Production Facilities with an approved Zoning Use Certificate and Business Tax Certificate issued before Jan. 31, 2017, shall cease use or obtain all approvals required to operate by Oct. 17, 2021.

      12th Update, Phase 3: O-21221

      12th Update, Phase 2: O-21163

      Background Checks and Operating Permit:

      Cannabis Outlets and Cannabis Production Facilities with approved Conditional Use Permits must comply with SDMC Section Chapter 4, Article 2, Division 15, the regulating CUP, and all applicable City, County, State and Federal Regulations. Applicant Instructions can be found here. To initiate this compliance process, please email [email protected]

      State Resources:

      Any other permits or licenses required by law must be obtained from the appropriate agency. For information regarding State of California Cannabis requirements and regulations, running a cannabis business in California, or to search for a licensed business, please refer to the California Department of Cannabis Control.

      Legal Marijuana Shops Are Taking on the Black Market

      After years of advocating for stronger policing of the illegal cannabis industry, some local legal cannabis operators are taking matters into their own hands.

      On July 6, the dispensary chain March & Ash filed a lawsuit against former San Diego County Sheriff’s Capt. Marco Garmo and a long list of alleged co-conspirators. The lawsuit alleges violations of anti-racketeering, false advertising and unfair competition laws. One of the defendants is a local media outlet that regularly runs advertisements for illegal dispensaries.

      The seeds for the civil action were planted in September 2020, when Garmo pleaded guilty in federal court to illegally trafficking firearms from his office in the sheriff’s Rancho San Diego station. Garmo was sentenced to two years in federal prison in March “for years of unlawful firearms transactions and for an array of corrupt conduct relating to unlicensed marijuana dispensaries operating in his former jurisdiction,” the U.S. attorney’s office wrote in a press release.

      As part of his plea, Garmo admitted that he tipped off an illegal cannabis dispensary to an imminent search by other law enforcement officials. Called Campo Greens, it was owned in part by his cousin. The business avoided any negative outcomes from the raid thanks to the tip. Garmo also admitted to pressuring another illegal dispensary to hire his friend and co-defendant in the federal case, Waiel Anton, as a “consultant,” along with another person who had agreed to pay Garmo a kickback and worked for the county at the time. That deal ultimately fell through.

      Garmo’s criminal case highlighted the struggle by local law enforcement, as well as lawmakers, to stamp out the same illegal cannabis market that he was part of. Though it’s difficult to quantify, California’s cannabis market — which is widely considered to be the largest in the world — totals $11.9 billion, a 2019 industry report claims. About $3 billion of that is legal and nearly $9 billion is not. The same report projects that, by 2024, California’s total market will be worth $13.6 billion, split into $7.6 billion legal and $6.4 billion illicit.

      The reasons for this discrepancy are many, but stem from California being the historic home of cannabis cultivation in the United States. A mature and highly functional cannabis market has existed in the state for many decades, well before the passage of Proposition 215 in 1996, which legalized medical cannabis in California.

      While Prop. 215 brought many previously illicit operators into compliance, it was still easier and more profitable for many to remain unlicensed, especially considering that, since the 1960s, California’s weed has been supplying black markets around the country. It still does, even after the passage of Proposition 64 in 2016, which legalized adult-use cannabis in California and superseded Proposition 215. State-legal cannabis markets are not allowed to engage in interstate commerce, meaning that legal weed has to be sold solely within state lines. Black markets follow no such rules.

      California continues to be the weed grower and seller for the rest of the nation in these quasi-legal times.

      Prop. 64 caused its own headaches, in large part because it gave municipalities the ability to opt out. Sales, distribution, manufacturing and cultivation of cannabis are currently banned in the unincorporated areas of San Diego County, where most of Garmo’s dispensary-related activity took place and where the majority of the county’s illegal dispensaries are housed.

      Another cannabis industry report compiled by California State University San Marcos this year counted 83 unlicensed cannabis dispensary busts by the Sheriff’s Department since 2018, with the total cost of enforcement around $215,000. County Supervisor Joel Anderson told me that 64 of those unlicensed dispensaries were in his district, which covers the large eastern swath of the county.

      With Anderson’s support in January, the board voted 4-1 to effectively overturn the ban and since then has been working to finalize the finer points of an ordinance, which is expected to come back for a second vote in the fall.

      The strength of the illicit market has been a significant thorn in the side of legal operators, who pay high licensing fees and taxes in order to stay legit.

      “For people who don’t live here, it’s hard to grasp how out of control this got in Spring Valley and certain areas of El Cajon and Lakeside,” said Bret Peace, general counsel of March & Ash. “There were stores on seemingly every major street with blinking green lights, open 24 hours, with sign spinners and ads in the [San Diego] Reader,” the alt-weekly newspaper named in the civil case. Jim Holman, owner and publisher of the San Diego Reader, said that he did not have a comment on the matter at this time.

      “The continued proliferation of illegal dispensaries and associated violence was right out in the open in this very specific area of the unincorporated East County, even where they have been shut down elsewhere,” Peace said. “We all complained but were told nothing could be done. Yet they’re selling mislabeled, untested and contaminated products while attracting violence, including the murder of an innocent man related to one of my colleagues.”

      Peace also said that, following the removal of Garmo from his position in 2019, “all hell broke loose,” and illegal dispensaries continued to proliferate. Because of that, he and March & Ash felt the need to pursue more drastic measures because they didn’t see law enforcement stepping up in a meaningful way.

      Peace and March & Ash’s attorney, Cory Briggs, puts it more bluntly.

      “The purpose of the lawsuit is to put an end to the illegal competition that the legitimate dispensaries are having to face,” Briggs said. “It’s law enforcement’s job to do that, but Marco Garmo had some sort of mob monopoly on the law enforcement and laws weren’t being enforced in his part of the county like they were supposed to be. So, entities like March & Ash are responding to unfair pressures.”

      Briggs also said unlicensed dispensaries don’t have to pay their employees a living wage, taxes or workers’ compensation, to give just a few examples. They also sell unlicensed and untested products, like those with certain illegal pesticides or growth hormones that have been proven to be harmful for human consumption, especially when combusted, as weed usually is.

      Furthermore, like in any shadow industry, the lack of oversight and legality makes unlicensed cannabis operations a prime target for organized crime. Anderson told me he believes organized crime could be a factor in the specific incidents that concern Garmo, but couldn’t point to any hard evidence and is not familiar with the details of Garmo’s involvement. Instead, he cited his time as the vice chair of the California Senate Public Safety Committee and conversations there.

      “I know that throughout the state, it is an issue,” he said.

      As for the lawsuit, which is styled after federal RICO cases, both Briggs and Peace believe theirs is a first of its kind, at least in the cannabis world and certainly in California’s cannabis industry. Briggs said they are seeking to set a precedent other private operators can use to combat the black market, especially in situations where they feel they are not adequately being served by law enforcement.

      RICO, which stands for Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization, refers to a type of federal criminal charge that is applied to so-called organized crime entities and came about as part of the Organized Crime Control Act of 1970. Despite the name, charging a person or persons under RICO provisions is less about whether they are involved in an established organized crime organization and more about the conduct and types of business activities that lead to a network of illegal economic and criminal activity. In popular culture, RICO charges often show up in books and movies about the mafia.

      Civil suits that mimic federal RICO cases seek to include the umbrella of actors and entities that support the network’s activities. In the case of a civil suit, it makes them monetarily liable. The goal is to show that by supporting unlawful economic activity in any way, they are therefore on the hook for economic damages incurred.

      Briggs and the team supporting March & Ash said they did their own detective work by hiring a private investigator, and gathering phone records and video surveillance from a variety of businesses that illustrated a web of interconnected people and money streams. None of it has been made public yet as part of the case.

      “All of this was out in the open,” Briggs said of Garmo and the co-defendants named in the new lawsuit. “They just got used to operating with impunity.”

      In addition to Garmo and the San Diego Reader, the six other defendants in the case brought by March & Ash include ATM operators, landlords and bootleg edibles companies. By knowingly supporting an illegal dispensary’s activity by doing business with them, even if they are not selling contraband themselves, they are complicit, the suit alleges.

      Last week, Anderson also announced along with San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan that he will deliver a board letter to be introduced at the Aug. 18 County Board of Supervisors meeting that seeks additional funding for the DA’s office specifically to counter illegal pot shops in the county. The ordinance in the works would expedite the receivership process for county counsel to take control of properties that law enforcement has identified for illegal cannabis sales in the unincorporated communities. It would also allocate an additional $1.2 million in funding for the district attorney to help prosecute the individuals involved.

      “I’m in a tough spot,” Anderson said. “I absolutely support legal cannabis businesses, but I also have a duty to my constituents, who are rightly and loudly complaining about the harm done to them by these illegal dispensaries. It is affecting quality of life and the safety of their communities.”

      Another issue, Anderson said, is not merely that these dispensaries exist, but also that they quickly proliferate. Unlicensed dispensaries in eastern San Diego County have been opening much faster than the Sheriff’s Department has been able to shut them down, which Anderson attributes to a lack of funding and manpower. “It’s like whack-a-mole with these pot shops,” he said.

      For their part, the San Diego Sheriff’s Department declined to comment on anything specifically related to Garmo or his cases, but reiterated its commitment to stamping out illegal pot shops.

      “The enforcement of ceasing operations of illegal marijuana dispensaries follows community concerns about illegal dispensaries near schools and residential areas. We want to assure those we serve that the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department is listening to the community and recognizes the negative impact illegal marijuana dispensaries have on our neighborhoods,” a spokesperson said in a statement.

      The spokesperson also reiterated that the Sheriff’s Department is particularly concerned with halting the sale of illegal edibles that are branded to resemble existing brands of candies and snacks, something that is illegal for licensed cannabis products per Prop 64. One of those bootleg companies, Dabzilla Sour Bears, was named in the suit.

      While Garmo remains imprisoned, it’s because of gun charges, not anything to do with his involvement in illegal cannabis sales. His admissions under oath, however, revealed a blind spot in the Sheriff Department’s enforcement strategy against illegal cannabis dispensaries. It remains to be seen whether the department can bring it under control. If it can’t, Peace and Briggs believe their civil suit will provide the public with a different way to combat illegal cannabis businesses going forward.

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