Related story: Cities await court decision on medical marijuana dispensaries
Special Section: Medical Marijuana
Local officials claim success in shutting down illegal medical marijuana dispensaries but admit tracking them down in the first place is the most difficult task.
Most city and county officials praise their own efforts to close down dispensaries they can locate, but sometimes it takes a little luck to find them.
"We don't think any jurisdiction knows to the fullest extent how many there are," said Paul Chabot, the founder of Rancho Cucamonga-based Inland Valley Drug Free Community.
"The reason is that these dispensaries can't apply for business licenses. There is no record keeping on how many exist or where they are. Law enforcement can only become aware by a cop seeing or it's self-reported or a citizen is calling up. They're literally pot stores popping up like weeds. I don't think anybody has 100 percent accuracy on physical locations in their city."
San Bernardino City Attorney James Penman, like other government officials in the Inland Empire, says he's been successful in finding illegal dispensaries and dealing with them.
"We have pretty good intelligence on when they are here and where they open," he said. "We get calls from citizens.
Fontana police Capt. Robert Ramsey was also upbeat about his city's tactics toward unwanted dispensaries.
"Based on our efforts at utilizing this land use prohibition, we've been able to close every single one successfully," Ramsey said. "One opened a short time ago, and it's in the process of closing."
Lanny Swerdlow, founder of the Riverside medical marijuana collective at the center of a hearing before the state Supreme Court in San Francisco, agreed with Chabot that some dispensaries stay hidden for some time.
"These collectives open and close all the time and there is no way the cities can keep track of them," Swerdlow said. "The best way to find out is to go to weedmaps.com."
In Chino Hills, officials found a medical marijuana dispensary operator after he had gotten a city business license using horticulture as the description of his business.
"That one marijuana place that we had in town was shut down in March of 2012 and basically we don't have anything going on right now as far as we know," said Denise Cattern, spokeswoman for Chino Hills.
David Wert, San Bernardino County spokesman, said citizen complaints were used to find illegal medical marijuana dispensaries because "we're not involved driving up and down the street looking for violations."
When the information is passed on about an unwanted dispensary, cities use different ways to combat the issue.
Penman said the city of San Bernardino will send an investigator to determine if the information is accurate and if so, will prepare an affidavit or declaration of penalty to present to the Superior Court to get an inspection warrant.
A warrant lets the investigator take photos of the interior, exterior and identify people inside, Penman said.
Steve Lustro, Montclair community development director, said in many of the cases the landlord from whom the operator is renting or leasing from has no idea they're not permitted in the city.
"As a matter of fact we know on several occasions where the operators have contacted the landlord and have misrepresented to the landlord that dispensaries are allowed in the city," Lustro said.
If the unwanted San Bernardino dispensary doesn't close, then administrative penalties in the form of a $1,000 per day fine start, Penman said.
Redlands also has $1,000 fines for dispensaries who don't shut down, said city spokesman Carl Baker.
"What we're finding with these dispensaries is they set up shop and stay in business as long as they can until they get closed and then move out to areas where there's fewer restrictions," Wert said.
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