Cannabis delivery services have been a source of turmoil between city governments and the cannabis industry and community for years. The elusive nature of deliveries made them hard to track, especially because most don’t operate out of a traditional brick-and-mortar stores. But under the Medicinal Adult Use Cannabis Regulatory Safety Act, delivery services are now within the law, as long as they’re either connected to a legal dispensary or a facility not open to the public. Although many cities in California still ban deliveries—and cannabis altogether—Chula Vista is taking a big step by being the first city in San Diego County to permit independent delivery services.
On Tuesday, Feb. 27, the San Diego City council passed an ordinance that positions the city for a whole new source of income. After four hours of debate the council voted 4-1 to allow up to 12 cannabis retailers — split between dispensaries and delivery services — 10 cultivation sites and an unlimited number of testing and manufacturing facilities. This is a huge move for Chula Vista, and San Diego in general—a county that’s long promoted an anti-cannabis agenda.
The retail limits make it possible for Chula Vista to have more cannabis shops per capita than the city of San Diego, which limits dispensaries to 36 but has more than four times the population of Chula Vista. And Chula Vista will be the first city in the county to regulate recreational marijuana delivery businesses.
“This is a huge deal,” Manny Biezunski, the board secretary for the San Diego Cannabis Delivery Alliance, told the San Diego Tribune. “Chula Vista is making history. This is something we’ve been fighting for at least a couple of years in San Diego.”
The delivery industry was essentially shut out of San Diego when the city declined to include delivery services in its regulations. The fact that the second-largest city in the county is regulating deliveries is a huge win for the industry, and its patients and consumers.
But Chula Vista’s ordinance sets it far apart from other communities in San Diego. Most North County cities have outlawed cannabis sales, outright—like the majority of cities in Orange County and the rest of the state, for that matter. Oceanside has proposed allowing sales and commercial cultivation of medical cannabis only, and Vista's council has discussed allowing a limited number of dispensaries. Nothing has passed yet, and there’s still a lot of push back from city council and community members.
No East County cities in San Diego currently allow adult-use dispensaries, though voters in La Mesa and Lemon Grove passed laws in 2016 allowing medical cannabis shops to open in certain parts of their cities. Prohibition still stands for the most part, however.
With prohibition, however, comes the onslaught illegal dispensaries. Last year, rogue shops continuously sprouted throughout Chula Vista, despite getting raided and shut down. According to county records, 30 cannabis storefronts in the city were shut down—and, of course, reopened.
According to reports by the San Diego Tribune, the council sees regulation as a possible solution to the problem, especially if funds from sales tax revenues go toward enforcement. City Council members also see the ordinance as a way to ensure they write the regulations instead of leaving it up to a ballot initiative.
Now that the council passed its ordinance, the city needs to write specific regulations in order to create the application process.
“We needed to get this ordinance approved tonight because we didn’t want to invest a ton of time starting to write regulations if they weren’t going to approve the ordinance,” said Deputy City Manager Kelley Bacon. “We have a lot of work ahead of us right now to put all of our regulations in place.”
The city expects to pull in as much as $6 million a year through a gross-receipts tax and square-footage fees imposed on commercial cannabis businesses, recovering the costs of licensing and enforcement. The tax, however, must be approved by voters in November.