The interior of a marijuana dispensary that was raided in 2016. Courtesy City Attorney’s Office

By Monte Jones

SAN DIEGO — The illegal marijuana industry is flourishing under the noses of local lawmakers.

The number of illegal marijuana delivery services operating in the City of San Diego has exploded over the past two years. Today, 125 illegal marijuana delivery services are open for business, more than twice the number from April 2014, when 59 were operational.

Illegal marijuana delivery services are not tied to legally permitted marijuana dispensaries. Currently, only eight permitted marijuana dispensaries have the legal standing to operate a marijuana delivery service.

As the city of San Diego works to shut down brick and mortar illegal marijuana storefronts, these unregulated businesses are morphing into illegal marijuana delivery services. Consequently, unscrupulous marijuana dealers are simply utilizing their customer lists to morph their illegal storefronts into illegal marijuana delivery services.

Why should San Diegans care about these developments? Because communities are bearing the burden of the crime, blight and fear generated by illegal marijuana dealers. Acting in blatant violation of the law, the marijuana black market has thrived as our quality of life has deteriorated.

Marijuana remains classified as an illegal drug under federal law. It is the most commonly used illicit drug in the United States. And yet, our local lawmakers are allowing illegal marijuana delivery services to grow and thrive, without apparent regard for the harm that marijuana poses to our children and to our communities.

Children living in neighborhoods across in San Diego County are smoking marijuana at alarming rates. According to the California Healthy Kids Survey, one in five 11th graders reported using marijuana in the past 30 days. Growing up in neighborhoods where head shops are a common sight, and bongs and water pipes are offered for sale at shopping mall kiosks, is it any surprise that high school students in San Diego County perceive marijuana to be less harmful than cigarettes?

High-risk teens are especially vulnerable when coming of age in a city where the illegal marijuana industry holds sway: Overwhelmingly, marijuana is the drug of choice for local teens admitted into treatment, with approximately two-thirds of all adolescent admissions due to marijuana use.

Turning a blind eye toward illegal marijuana delivery services, designed to increase under-the radar access points to marijuana, makes it even more difficult to protect our children from a harmful and highly-addictive substance.

Criminology theory and data show that the trafficking and abuse of marijuana and other illicit drugs create an enormous drain on the economic, physical and social health of American society. Add to that equation locally the proliferation of 125 illegal marijuana delivery services, transporting an illicit drug to customers throughout the city of San Diego, in blatant violation of the law and without fear of repercussion.

It’s a recipe for disaster.

Proposition 64, the “Adult Use of Marijuana Act,” gives municipalities the authority to adopt and enforce local ordinances to regulate marijuana businesses. Having recently passed an eight-month moratorium on recreational marijuana sales, manufacturing and distribution, the San Diego City Council is working with the City Attorney to develop a legal framework to regulate the recreational marijuana industry.

Although supportive of the moratorium, our organization joins prevention advocates in calling for the immediate adoption of an “express ban” on illegal marijuana delivery services.

Considering the illegal marijuana industry’s persistent defiance of the law, the city council must take action now to shut down illicit marijuana delivery services.

With our collective quality of life hanging in the balance, there is much at stake and very little time to lose.

Monte Jones is chief executive officer of BAME Community Development Corp., which was founded in 1995 by members of Bethel Memorial African Methodist Episcopal Church. This article is reprinted from The Times of San Diego which, along with The Moderate Voice, is a member of the San Diego Online News Association.

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