Los Angeles is infamous for having more marijuana stores than public schools. With a wide variety of different kinds of stores all over the city – from luxurious Hollywood to shoddy storefronts, there’s almost no turn not littered with a cannabis store or two.
Cannabis stores started to sprout out of nowhere from as early as 2008 since when it’s estimated about 800 of them were established. Authorities speculate the real number could be somewhere closer to 1,000. However, most of these are thought to operate illegally.
The city has long been believed to be the biggest market for marijuana in the world, exacerbated further by the fact that it has historically had very loose laws regarding medical marijuana.
However, the start of this year saw a shift in how businesses dealing with any form of marijuana operate. To be deemed legal, they need both a city and state license. For many business people, these will add operational costs in terms of taxes, for the most part.
As a result of which, since the beginning of this year, the Bureau of Cannabis Control of California (the state agency that regulates marijuana), has issued upward of 1,000 cease and desist letters to businesses that operate without a state-provided license.
These businesses do not pay local taxes on the product, unlike their licensed competitors. Since cease and desist letters have almost no legal standing, the bulk of these businesses have been able to run undisturbed. But as of Friday, a lot of them will find it a lot harder to conduct their trade within the city.
Opening Stores at Front
With hundreds of more stores still in operation, a City Council committee has been mandated to mobilize different agencies to crack down on such operations. They are expected to be better funded, more organized and better suited to deal with cracking down on illegal businesses as a result. This comes after a seven-month grace period provided by state authorities to get up to speed with the new licensing requirements.
A report published by the Department of Cannabis Regulation and approved by the Rules, Elections and Inter governmental Relations Committee recommends the establishment of a system for sharing information regarding illegal cannabis businesses.
This new system will have state departments directly share the police monitor who places marijuana ads online and complaints made to the police.
Currently, the DCR has a complaint portal, but access to the information is not shared with the Office of the City Attorney, Los Angeles Police Department and other relevant state departments that receive valid complaints. Each of these departments will now have access to the information, making coordination and mobilization easier.
“The system will result in complaints being handled gradually,” the report says. “A central platform for handling complaints is going to allow the different city and state departments to upload complaints which will be sorted through by the DCR. This will then make sure that any grievances made through it will be flagged.”
According to the LAPD, there have been 143 search warrants against businesses suspected to be engaged in illegal cannabis activity as of November 2018. In September alone, there were over 500 arrests by the police. Of these, 105 businesses were shut down, and about 400 people were charged with misdemeanors.
“The residents of this city wanted common sense rules to regulate recreational marijuana, so the people’s public safety is not interfered with. It’s pretty simple. If you operate an illegal marijuana business, you are going to be held accountable,” Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer stated.
Of the people charged in September, most were business operators, while the rests were landlords and others employees of various businesses, according to Feuer. All of them face a maximum of six months in prison and $1,000 in fines according to the newly passed regulations – Proposition 64, passed earlier this year, reduce punishments for every marijuana-related crime, despite providing stricter rules regarding the same.
Role of LA Police Department
At the press conference in September, Feuer said these charges were all part of criminal cases brought against suspects as part of the sting operation. In addition, the L.A. Police Department Chief Michael Moore added that city prosecutors might seize any properties linked to illegal marijuana businesses via civil action.
During the operation, the LAPD also recovered 67 firearms, seized over $600,000 and claimed over 30,000 pounds of cannabis, according to the report released by the state police department.
Currently, there are just 165 storefronts confirmed to be operating within the law and are authorized to deliver the product within Los Angeles.
The crackdowns are expected to continue hitting all corners of the city – all the way from Boyle Heights to South L.A and the Westside, according to officials.
The lack of licenses in itself is not the main problem. The real issue with businesses that attempt to operate without licenses often disregard regulations in place regarding security, storage and delivery.
Without proper permission, there’s no real way for consumers to be sure the marijuana they are buying is going to be safe from contaminants during storage or the growing process, Feuer added.
However, both Feuer and Moore acknowledged that a lot more work was going to be put into eliminating the black market.
“By undertaking the actions that we have so far followed, and will continue to do so, we are letting out residents and anyone that wishes to flout the laws that the city and its good people will not stand idly by while the community is exposed to more risk,” Councilwoman Nury Martinez was quoted saying.
Authorities are reviewing another 40 marijuana businesses now, Feuer said, to see if they are operating correctly. He encouraged residents to report businesses that they believe may not be operating illegally through a new online portal at cannabis.lacity.org.