When Lydia Romero first started as city manager of Lemon Grove in 2016, she remembers standing in front of the City Council and being asked to prioritize shutting down illegal marijuana dispensaries. That day, Jan. 19, 2016, the city banned all medical marijuana-related businesses.
A year later, thanks to a voter initiative allowing medical marijuana dispensaries, Lemon Grove must figure out how to legally fit the very businesses it’s been fighting into the fabric of the community.
As cities like Lemon Grove grapple with marijuana policies, they’re finding something strange: The most effective way to crack down on illegal dispensaries might be to help legal marijuana businesses thrive.
Starting in 2015, illegal marijuana businesses started popping up in unprecedented numbers in Lemon Grove.
So Romero and her sole code enforcement employee started the game of whack-a-mole, trying to shut down the illegal businesses.
It was frustrating, she said. Most of the operators and property owners where the dispensaries were located don’t live or have offices in Lemon Grove.
Support Independent Journalism Today
“They come under the dark of night,” Romero said. “They hide behind everything – LLC business names – and you can’t track down who the operators are or their offices.”
Occasionally the city would luck out and the Sheriff’s Department would get involved, forcing the dispensary’s hand. Once there was a robbery outside one of the illegal storefronts, and the officers noticed that the business had a camera. Officers got a warrant to go inside the store, which the city’s code enforcement workers couldn’t do, giving the city proof that it was an illegal dispensary.
Sometimes the city would close one shop down, only to have another pop up on the same property. Sometimes the businesses just wouldn’t stop, no matter the fines, so the city