Los Angeles Cracks Down On Unlicensed Pot Shops

By Paul Gaita 09/12/18
Authorities estimate that there may be more than 200 retailers operating in Los Angeles without proper licensing.
hand holding prescription bottle of medical cannabis

Misdemeanor charges were filed against more than 500 individuals in Los Angeles as part of City Attorney Mike Feuer's campaign against unlicensed marijuana-related businesses.

At a press conference on September 7, Feuer said that the charges were part of 120 criminal cases, and carry a possible sentence of six months in jail and fines of up to $1,000.

Los Angeles Police Department Chief Michael Moore, who was also in attendance at the press conference, added that city prosecutors may try to seize properties that are linked to illegal marijuana businesses by civil action.

As both KTLA-TV and High Times noted, Feuer's office began its crackdown on unlicensed marijuana businesses in June 2018 in an attempt to align the city's cannabis industry with the regulations established by the 2016 passage of Proposition 64 by the state of California, which legalized recreational marijuana for individuals 21 years or older. 

When the law was implemented in 2018, the state added a number ofnew and far stricter regulations in regard to packaging, contents and testing cannabis products, which took effect on July 1, 2018.

Products that did not comply with the new regulations were required by law to be disposed of at the business's expense, forcing many retailers to either sell their product at deep discounts or destroy it; by some estimates, the latter was estimated at $350 million in potential cannabis sales.

According to Feuer, the new regulations—and making sure that businesses adhere to them—are in line with what Los Angeles-based voters sought from Proposition 64.

"[They] wanted common-sense rules to regulate recreational marijuana so public safety is protected in our neighborhoods," he said at the press conference. "Our message is clear: if you are operating an illegal cannabis business, you will be held accountable."

The city has so far charged 21 individuals who have pled guilty or no contest to misdemeanor charges or infractions related to marijuana regulations. One person was reportedly sent to a diversion program, and 11 cases appear to have been dismissed.

Authorities estimate that there may be more than 200 retailers that are operating in Los Angeles without proper licensing. "The Los Angeles Police Department will continue to assign resources, dedicate personnel to take [enforcement] action—criminal action—against unlicensed retailers, manufacturers [and] cultivators who have not followed the rules," said Police Chief Michael Moore.

Some in the cannabis industry have supported Feuer's efforts. Adam Spiker, executive director of the Southern California Coalition, said that cracking down on black market retailers is beneficial for the state's industry as a whole. "I applaud the city for doing this," he said. "You can't have a regulated industry without strong enforcement."

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, Amazon.com and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.