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City attorney addresses recreational marijuana confusion

 Though the sale of marijuana for recreational use became legal in the state of California beginning in the new year, some cities are not allowing dispensaries or commercial growing. For some consumers, these regulations mean that they are not able to buy the product legally where they live. 

The topic has caused a wave of confusion for some Californians. The recreational sale of cannabis is legal in the state — but not every city is allowing it.

Darold Pieper

Darold Peiper, city attorney and city prosecutor for the city of Vista, wanted to clear up the matter for Vistans.

Pieper said that Proposition 64, which legalized recreational marijuana, expressly provides that cities and counties may regulate and completely ban marijuana businesses. So, what does that mean to Vista residents?

Pieper said that some cities, such as San Diego, have decided to regulate and permit the sale of marijuana.

“Most other cities, including Vista, do not permit its sale,” Pieper said. “Individual consumption is generally legal anywhere in the state, but its sale and commercial cultivation are not.”

Pieper said there does seem to be some confusion about the legality of marijuana in Vista. He said the sale of marijuana in Vista has always been illegal and it still is.

“The only reason there is ‘confusion’ on the matter is because illegal storefront marijuana stores have regularly opened and operated in defiance of Vista’s complete ban on marijuana-related land uses in the city,” Pieper said. “Vista does not, and cannot, regulate individual consumption. We do, however, prohibit its sale and commercial cultivation in the city.”

Pieper said even though Vista’s zoning regulations prohibit the sale of marijuana, businesses have been in violation. At the end of 2017, Pieper said his department closed 46 such cannabis dispensaries, including three growing operations.

And with these closures have come legal consequences.

“Business owners and their landlords face civil and potential criminal penalties for operating these businesses,” Pieper said. “Potential criminal violations include violations of the Vista Zoning Code, the California Penal Code and the Health & Safety Code. The city has prosecuted business owners and landlords under all of these authorities, and we commonly receive guilty pleas from the defendants. We have also convicted a landlord in a jury trial for knowingly violating Vista’s Zoning Code.”

Pieper wants Vistans to know that as of the end of December 2017, their department had a total of four criminal cases in process. These cases also involved multiple defendants, he said.

“We cannot comment on open investigations, but there are several businesses advertising that they sell marijuana in Vista,” he said. “Most of those purport to provide delivery services only, which are also illegal, while around a half dozen others indicate they are storefront operations.”

Pieper said the city of Vista has had great success in shuttering illegal marijuana businesses. Closures can vary ranging from one day up to one year or more. Pieper said the timing is dependent on many factors, such as the level of cooperation among property owners and attorneys or the speed of a case moving through the criminal justice system.

“We do not have a vendetta against these businesses; rather, they seem to have a vendetta against Vista and its lawful ordinances and policies,” Pieper said. “We will keep enforcing its laws to keep order and preserve the safety and quality of life for its residents, until and unless the law changes.”

1 comment

Dick Eiden April 16, 2018 at 7:09 pm

Pieper brags about shutting down dispensaries, but you could score a journalistic coup by digging deeper and finding out how much cash and property was seized from each raid and what has been done with all that loot. Pieper didn’t talk about that, did he? He won’t unless somebody makes him. What are they hiding and why?

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