Saying the city of Compton has failed to enforce its own marijuana laws, Compton school officials have sued the city for allegedly allowing pot dispensaries to set up shop near schools.
State law prohibits dispensaries from operating within 600 feet of educational institutions, but Compton's municipal ordinances go a step further. In 2007, the City Council banned marijuana shops.
In a lawsuit filed Wednesday, the Compton Unified School District alleges that a dozen pot shops are now operating in city limits, three in the restricted zones of an elementary school, two middle schools and a high school.
"We are working to get our students college- and career-ready and these dispensaries impede that progress," said Micah Ali, Compton's school board president.
A tour of the sites named in the lawsuit, however, revealed an industrial complex, a tobacco shop and a storefront with blackened windows.
The city said it had been working with law enforcement for years to combat illegal dispensaries that operate without a business license or proper permits. Six dispensaries were shut down last year, said City Atty. Craig Cornwell, but he said they often pop back up in new locations.
"The allegation that we are not enforcing our ordinance is not true," he said. "We will continue to address this complex issue, uphold all ordinances and help keep the citizens safe."
In late 2013, a task force was created to find alternative measures to close illegal operations such as hourly motels and marijuana dispensaries. The city is looking into imposing hefty fines on property owners who lease space to such businesses.
Mayor Aja Brown said the issue was hardly unique to Compton. Other cities have similar challenges eliminating underground dispensaries that operate off the grid. But the city hopes its tougher approach will discourage building owners from turning a blind eye to the illegal activity occurring on their property.
Officials were shocked to learn Thursday that the school district had filed a lawsuit against the city. Cornwell said he received a letter Thursday from the school board notifying the city of the problem. The board threatened litigation if the dispensaries were not shuttered within five days.
Cornwell said he was preparing a response when The Times called inquiring about the complaint.
"I'm at a loss as to why this approach would be taken on this matter," Cornwell said.
The suit asks the court to force the city to "abate the nuisance" and shut down all of the dispensaries near the schools and in the city.
Though illegal, some dispensaries often operate in plain sight. A life-size green cross is plastered on a white building facing Long Beach Boulevard, a major thoroughfare. The awning above the gated windows reads "Greenlife." Others keep a lower profile.
One of the sites identified in the lawsuit as being near Gen. Benjamin O. Davis Middle School on Rosecrans Avenue has dark tinted windows and no signage. But beefy security guards roam outside the doors.
"No one I know thinks a marijuana dispensary near a school is a good idea," Ali said. "If we just enforce the law, this problem can be solved."