CHULA VISTA, Calif. — Residents say illegal pot shops lining the streets of Chula Vista have been a problem for years. Video from a raid last November shows armed officers forcing employees out of one.
Chula Vista residents have said they don't want these illegal operations in their neighborhoods and think they draw a different clientele than legal dispensaries.
On Broadway, several illegal shops have popped up around a single intersection and don't seem to hide what they are selling.
While marijuana is legal in California, Chula Vista only recently approved commercial sales and is still in the process of approving what will be 12 legal dispensaries. An estimated 14 are currently operating unlicensed, un-taxed, and unregulated.
So, why can’t the city or police shut more of them down?
"I was told the police department pulled millions and millions [of dollars'] worth of product out of that one little store," said Chula Vista City Councilman Mike Diaz.
Diaz said it's a complicated issue.
"In the past, the only tool we had was the civil side to evict them. That takes a long time. They have the best attorneys and the know-how to work the system and by the time we evict them out of there - which is 9 to 13 months - they’ll open a new store right across the street," Diaz said.
But things are changing.
The Chula Vista City Council just hired a prosecutor and the police department hired additional officers to try and combat the problem. Hopefully making it easier to take it from a civil to a criminal matter.
"I think there’s a lot more opportunity for crime and violence to happen when pot shops are not regulated," said Manolo Guillen, program director with the Institute for Public Strategies.
In the next few months, the city said it will begin licensing legal shops which they hope will help curb illegal activity while also bringing in new taxes to fund the community.
"The marijuana industry - that’s how they sold it from the beginning they said tax us, regulate us and that’s what Chula Vista is doing," Guillen said.
According to the city, they have already received more than 130 applications to open one of the 12 licensed dispensaries. They also made it clear anyone who has ties to any illegal operation cannot be involved in future activities with legal facilities.