In an ongoing effort to extinguish unlicensed cannabis sales, the Los Angeles City Council recently introduced a motion to padlock, barricade, or fence off properties where this illicit business activity is found to occur.
The motion, presented by councilmembers Marqueece Harris-Dawson and Mónica Rodríguez last Thursday, notes that, “Despite increased law enforcement efforts to shut [them] down,” unlicensed cannabis businesses continue to thrive in Los Angeles.
In response, the motion calls for City Attorney Mike Feuer to work with the City’s Police Department, as well as the Department of Cannabis Regulation and the Department of Building and Safety, to create a process that will enable authorities to close off properties in violation of state and local cannabis laws. The move is part of a series of efforts, including previously enacted measures that allow authorities to cut off utilities at sites involved with illicit cannabis sales, as well as making property owners responsible for all costs associated with shutting them down.
When asked for specific regarding what prompted the measure, councilmember Harris-Dawson, who represents South Los Angeles, noted that he last year counted only two legal shops among seventy illegal ones in his district, which he says has the lowest number of legal shops and the highest concentration of illegal ones.
“As this industry becomes increasingly more lucrative, we must ensure legal dispensaries are given the opportunity to thrive. This is an issue of equity,” he told Cannabis Wire, adding, “This disparity severely impacts the ability of legal dispensaries to operate effectively including participants in our Cannabis Social Equity program,” which supports individuals disproportionately affected by the enforcement of cannabis laws prior to legalization.
Americans for Safe Access, a national organization composed of patients, medical professionals, and scientists that advocates for safe and legal access to cannabis, and the Southern California Coalition, a trade association that represents all sectors of the cannabis industry, have already voiced their support. In letters calling for the measure to be expedited, both groups signal that though the City Council already allows for power to be shut off at unauthorized sites, some unlicensed operators “simply purchased generators and resumed operations.”
Padlocking properties where unlicensed sales happen, wrote the coalition’s executive director, Adam Spiker, “now appears as the only alternative.” Doing so, he added, also “provides a powerful incentive for the property owner to cooperate with the City Attorney and expedite the eviction” of unlicensed operators.
Both groups also underscored that “there is increasing evidence that illegal operators are selling contaminated products to patients and consumers” across the state and that, in one recent case in central California, public health officials issued a warning following the hospitalization of seven adults who purchased vape pens at unauthorized “pop-up shops.”
In reference to mounting efforts to undermine illicit cannabis sales, Kyle Kazan, a former member of the Torrance Police Department in Los Angeles County and current CEO of Glass House Group, told Cannabis Wire that the measure “is a much-needed step towards shutting down illegal shops selling untested, unregulated, and often counterfeit products to patients and consumers.” Kazan then added: “We also realize that no single entity can tackle these issues alone, so calling on the city’s key agencies to work together to share intelligence is likely a welcome relief to all.”
To date, the Los Angeles Department of Cannabis Regulation has issued 187 temporary approvals to engage in commercial cannabis activity. The agency also recently hired urban policy and planning expert Imani Brown to manage its Social Equity Program, which, in the words of executive director Cat Packer, aims to ensure that “community members adversely affected by the failed war on drugs have equitable access to ownership and employment opportunities in our local cannabis industry.” In June, the Southern California Coalition addressed city officials, arguing that “the only way to ensure the success of the Social Equity Program is to eradicate all illicit retail operators, and to do so in a way which makes it impossible for any other bad actor to take their place.”
In an interview with Cannabis Wire, the Coalition’s executive director, Adam Spiker, reiterated this sentiment, adding that while “there’s no silver bullet to this problem, padlocking and barricading is another positive step” in addressing unlicensed cannabis sales, given that landlords have, until recently, “largely escaped enforcement.”
Still, said Spiker, local governments need the support of state authorities. He acknowledged that the California Bureau of Cannabis Control’s #WeedWise campaign is working towards educating the public about the dangers of purchasing from unlicensed shops. However, he pointed out, the state agency only received 1.7 million dollars for it. “I’m certain that the Bureau is going to stretch and use every dollar to the best of its ability,” Spiker added, “but you would need ten times that amount to have a successful campaign in LA alone.”