Los Angeles City Attorney Begins Crackdown on Unlicensed Weed Businesses

Legal weed isn’t meant to be a free-for-all. There are still rules to follow. And Los Angeles city officials are taking them very seriously.
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The Los Angeles City Attorney has begun a crackdown on unlicensed weed businesses in the city. City Attorney Mike Feuer and Los Angeles Police Department officials announced the sweep at a press conference on Wednesday. The Los Angeles Fire Department and the city’s Department of Water and Power are helping with the enforcement efforts.

Feuer said his office has already filed 36 criminal cases that involve 32 stores and 140 individuals. He also had a warning for those still selling cannabis without a license, according to the Los Angeles Times.

“If you’re operating an illegal cannabis shop and selling recreational marijuana, you’re going to be subject to prosecution,” Feuer said.

The City Attorney added that offenders are subject to fines of $1,000 and jail terms of up to six months. He also said that his office will be sending out cease-and-desist orders to additional unlicensed dispensaries. Officials are hoping that the stepped-up enforcement will encourage the remaining illegal shops to close voluntarily instead of risking prosecution.

State Licensing Moving Ahead

California voters legalized the sale and recreational use of cannabis in 2016 with the passage of Prop 64. The measure also allows adults to grow up to six plants at home for personal use. But businesses must have a license to sell marijuana, and state regulators did not begin issuing any until the beginning of this year.

So far, the state Bureau of Cannabis Control (BCC) has licensed 147 retailers to sell cannabis in Los Angeles. But police estimate that at least 200 more are operating in the city illegally. Statewide, the BCC has issued licenses to 354 recreational marijuana shops. More than 400 additional dispensaries have received permits to sell medicinal cannabis. The California Department of Food and Agriculture has issued nearly 4,000 licenses for growers to cultivate cannabis in the state.

Law enforcement officers at Wednesday’s event also had advice for the city’s cannabis consumers. In order to avoid shopping at an unlicensed dispensary, police and city officials are encouraging Los Angelenos to consult a website with a listing of legal shops.

Los Angeles City Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson also attended Wednesday’s press conference. He said that constituents in his district have complained about unlicensed cannabis retailers for years. About a third of the shops closed by law enforcement so far have been in South L.A., an area represented by Harris-Dawson. But, he told reporters, unlicensed pot shops are doing business citywide.

“This is a problem all over the city of Los Angeles, from Venice to the West Valley, down to San Pedro,” Harris-Dawson said.

The crackdown by Los Angeles officials is also supported by the city’s licensed cannabis retailers. Adam Spiker serves as the executive director of industry group the Southern California Coalition, and said that controlling the black market in cannabis is essential for legalization to be successful.

“We applaud the city for doing this,” Spiker said. “You can’t have a regulated industry without strong enforcement.”

Spiker also had a bit of advice for the city’s illegal shops.

“If you’re not licensed, you should shut down or be shut down,” he said.

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