A Guide to Legal Cannabis in San Diego Where you can find it, where you can’t and the importance of timing

Looking to visit a place where legal, adult-use California cannabis will be available in January? Look no further than the city of San Diego. In addition to some of the world’s best beaches and tourist activities, the city will soon be home to a growing legal cannabis market, accessible to anyone over the age of 21.

“Consumers will have to do their homework before they head out to buy some legal cannabis. If they don’t, they could risk arriving at a boarded-up shop with police tape on the door, or simply risk buying unsafe product.”

Though the city limits will house plenty of storefront retailers and dozens of licensed cannabis suppliers, things get more confusing in its suburban cities still considered part and parcel of the greater San Diego area. Outside the formal city borders, it will still feel much like prohibition days, with bans countywide and affecting many tourist centers. It’s important to know where you stand as a cannabis consumer when the clock strikes midnight in 2018. Use this guide to situate yourself among the complicated cannabis geography of San Diego County.

A Sprawling City-Region

The cities targeted by initiatives—Carlsbad, Vista, Encinitas, Oceanside, Chula Vista and Santee—are population centers in their own right and miles from the urban center of San Diego. However, none of these cities currently allow commercial cannabis activities of any kind, leaving medical and adult consumers who live here in a “cannabis desert” where legal access won’t be available. This means there will be a significant spike in demand for the 17 shops within the city limits. It may also lead to tourists unknowingly wandering into unregulated shops where product is not tested.

Buyer Beware

Lack of legislation in the outlying cities means an inherent lack of regulation, which of course means that the illicit market in these areas is still thriving and will continue to do so after January. Despite the promise of legalization looming on the horizon, local law enforcement funds are still being used to raid dispensaries, as well as delivery services, whose legal fate in San Diego is still unknown.

Forcing cannabis to be sold in the shadows creates a confusing situation for local and tourist consumers, and that’s exactly what is happening in North County, East County and the South Bay. People are already flocking to these areas to buy cannabis, and many are not aware of the differences in policy between San Diego and these other cities close by.

Timing is Everything

So will San Diego’s dispensaries within the city limits actually be ready to start selling on January 1? It’s hard to say, but given that the temporary state licensing program is already underway, it’s likely that a few stores will be open for business that day. The rest should come online with adult sales within a few months.

Based on estimates from other states’ adult-use implementation, it will be another year or more before the outlying cities are set up for recreational cannabis. Lemon Grove, a small city just a few miles from San Diego State University neighborhood to the far east, was ground zero for a failed adult-use initiative, though there will still be medical dispensaries allowed there. La Mesa, also in East County, is underway in implementing a medical ordinance, but to date no public hearings have been scheduled for the 20+ medical dispensaries that have submitted applications. It is residents in these areas who will be traveling into San Diego to wait in long lines for legal cannabis.

The long and short of it is, in theory and on paper, San Diego is one of the most prepared cities, but without the finalized set of rules from the California Bureau of Cannabis Control, nothing is certain and everything is chaos. Consumers will need a keen eye and a basic knowledge of policy from city-to-city in order to be an educated cannabis customer. Are you up for the challenge?

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