San Diego’s City Council passed new sweeping medical marijuana regulations this week following years of debate that pitted pot patients and boosters against neighborhood activists.

Part of that debate centered on the proliferation of medical marijuana collectives around the city while no rules were in place that legitimized their existence.

I set out to Fact Check an interesting claim made in the Union-Tribune in advance of Monday’s vote about the growth of pot collectives in San Diego.

There now were more medical marijuana collectives in the city than pharmacies, according to a statement attributed to the Rev. John Bombaro, a pastor at a Hillcrest church.

My conclusion: That’s not correct, based on the best and most recently available statistics.

There are 185 licensed pharmacies in the city of San Diego, according to statistics from the California Board of Pharmacy, which regulates the industry. (Bonus points if you knew there was a California Board of Pharmacy.)

That’s compared to 166 dispensaries active as of last week, according to San Diego Police Department numbers.

These figures are close, especially considering that the number of dispensaries reached as high as 190 in the past year, said Capt. Terry McManus, who supervises the department’s narcotics section.

“It’s a fluid number,” McManus said.

The department determines the number based on resident complaints, proactive work by police and city code compliance officers and seeing newspaper and web advertisements, McManus added.

Counting medical marijuana collectives has been a notoriously difficult exercise since the city has no zoning code that permitted them. Also, McManus said, collectives tend to spring up and disappear frequently.

The city’s inability to count marijuana dispensaries is one problem the new regulations probably will fix since they include registration and permitting guidelines.

But for now, McManus said, 166 dispensaries is the best number the city has.

In the end, we decided not to use our traditional Fact Check format for this post because it turns out Bombaro says he didn’t make the statement that was attributed to him in the Union-Tribune story.

Bombaro, who is a pastor at Grace Lutheran Church, told me in an interview that he didn’t compare the number of marijuana collectives to pharmacies, but instead to the number of Starbucks coffee shops.

Bombaro said he googled local Starbucks and counted 164 of them from Mira Mesa Boulevard in Mira Mesa to the Mexican border. He compared that to the 165 to 180 marijuana dispensaries that he said Councilman Todd Gloria’s office told him existed. Bombaro said his number would have included any Starbucks in southern areas outside of San Diego city limits, such as Chula Vista, but omitted those in some northern San Diego neighborhoods, such as Carmel Valley.

“My Ph.D is in philosophy not mathematics so definitely you’re not going to get true science out of me,” Bombaro said.

The Union-Tribune reporter who talked to Bombaro, Christopher Cadelago, said he stood by the quotation. Bombaro, Cadelago said, compared the number of medical marijuana dispensaries both to pharmacies and Starbucks.

Please contact Liam Dillon directly at or 619.550.5663 and follow him on Twitter:

Liam Dillon was formerly a senior reporter and assistant editor for Voice of San Diego. He led VOSD’s investigations and wrote about how regular people...

Leave a comment

We expect all commenters to be constructive and civil. We reserve the right to delete comments without explanation. You are welcome to flag comments to us. You are welcome to submit an opinion piece for our editors to review.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.