A quick online search for Fullerton dispensaries reveals 10 stores open for business. However, each one is operating illegally.
To combat under-the-table cannabis sales, the city in April approved the hiring of a new code enforcement officer who will focus solely on closing illegal cannabis businesses. The pilot program is expected to run for two years at a cost of about $72,000.
“We’re just going to ticket you until you just can’t stand it anymore,” Councilman Fred Jung told The Epoch Times.
Fullerton has been trying to close these dispensaries for years, but the process is expensive and, in some cases, can take up to 12 months, he said.
The city has closed 49 illegal cannabis dispensaries and cultivation facilities since 2017.
The pilot program, approved April 6, will allot the code enforcement officer 28 hours per week to inspect the facilities and coordinate with the city attorney’s office and other departments to close the illegal cannabis operations.
The city’s goal through this pilot program is to inspect and cite every illegal cannabis business at least five times a week. Unpaid fines will incur late fee charges.
Jung said he expects the new bylaw officer to consistently issue fines to the owners and operators of illegal dispensaries.
“If that’s not happening, then the position is pointless and we’ll eliminate it,” he said.
Likewise, the officer will also look for illegal cannabis cultivation centers, which are identified easily by giving off a strong odor to neighboring businesses.
The code enforcement officer will conduct inspections and issue citations for the property owner and business operator beginning with up to $230.
Citations can increase for each day of non-compliance, up to $1,800.
The fees are set by the state government code, which the city must follow.
The city can also pursue legal action against the businesses to force closures.
Progress to Be Made
Fullerton Mayor Pro Tem Nick Dunlap said the city’s enforcement is “handcuffed” by state law, since it’s impossible for the city to issue its own penalties for these illegal businesses.
Nevertheless, he said Fullerton’s latest initiative was a good one.
“I think it’s a small step in the right direction, but the reality is there’s still a lot that needs to be done with respect to the regulation of cannabis,” Dunlap told The Epoch Times.
The new code enforcement officer will “take some of the strain off of code enforcement and the police departments,” he said.
Maria, a public commenter during the recent council meeting, said the illegal dispensaries are not hidden. One is currently operating in front of her home, which is close to a school and park.
“We want the chief of police to help us take away these dispensaries as fast as possible because they harm our community,” she said through a translator.
“$1,800 for a fine is very little for what they are making in a day.”
Cassandra, a Fullerton resident, spoke to the council in support of the pilot program. She also thought the fines were too low.
“I would like for us to have a bit more of an aggressive behavior in terms of the fines for the … operators and owners of these stores,” Cassandra said through a translator.
Councilman Jung said he agrees that the fines must be significantly raised. Big financial consequences, he said, would be the city’s best shot at clearing out illegal dispensaries.
“If the fine is $50,000 on your first offense, $100,000 on your second offense, you would have these illegal dispensaries start shutting down and not reopening—maybe for good,” Jung said.
Jung said Fullerton is unlikely to get rid of its illegal dispensaries “unless the state takes action and raises the monetary penalty for it.”
A possible aid is Assembly Bill 1138, which was introduced by Assemblywoman Blanca Rubio (D- Baldwin Park) in February to raise fines for these illegal dispensaries up to $30,000 each day.