Fullerton will hire one part-time code enforcement officer to seek out and shut down illegal cannabis businesses in the city as part of a two-year pilot program.

Editors’ Note: This dispatch is part of the Voice of OC Collegiate News Service, working with student journalists to cover public policy issues across Orange County. If you would like to submit your own student media project related to Orange County civics or if you have any response to this work, contact Collegiate News Service Editor Vik Jolly at vjolly@voiceofoc.org.

The program, which the City Council approved unanimously April 6, will cost $72,193 over two years and aims to curb illicit cannabis establishments that are posing a safety threat to the community, according to a staff report

The council repealed an ordinance allowing cannabis storefronts at an early March meeting after pressure from residents. Some speakers voiced fears about marijuana being near their children and illegal dispensaries popping up around the city during that meeting. The council took action to address these concerns at its April 6 meeting, agreeing to implement the two-year pilot project.

A code enforcement officer, who will work 28 hours a week, will be responsible for researching, checking social media for illicit activity, and monitoring property ownership. 

Business owners, property owners, and those leasing will be held accountable for the illegal operations with administrative citations.

The first citation for running an illegal cannabis business amounts to $100, a second, $200, and a third, $500. If the business has made alterations to the building without permits, which is likely, then extra fees will be added on top of the original citation, according to the staff report.

The combined fines would add to $130 on the first citation, $700 on the second, and $1,300 on the third.  If there are safety code violations like trash and debris on the building’s exterior or other issues, a fine of up to $2,500 is possible in addition to the citations, the report says. 

One resident, who lives near an illegal dispensary, commented on the fines during the April 6 meeting. 

“I live in a place where there’s one right in front of my house. It’s close to the school, close to the park…$1,800 for a fine is very little compared to what they are making in a day,” the resident said.

However, the fee schedule in question is set by the California government code which the city is required to follow, according to Guillermina Torrico, a Fullerton code enforcement manager told the City Council.

If fines prove to be unsuccessful, the City Council will take legal action to force the illicit businesses to close. This process to close such an establishment can take around six months. 

“If they don’t have a license, why aren’t we taking care of the problem right away? It needs to be taken care of right away, not a process that takes six to nine months,” resident Carolina Hernandez said during public comments. 

Council member Ahmad Zahra was concerned about repeat offenders starting new illegal operations.

“I’ve seen places that have been cited in the past, and then they go back and start all over again.  I’d like us to look at some of those properties as well,” he said.

The pilot program will start immediately once the code enforcement officer is hired. 

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