Lead Story West Edition

Local official declares war on illegal cannabis shops

SOUTH LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles City Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson has teamed up with the Mayor’s Office and the Cannabis Enforcement Task Force to shut down illegal cannabis dispensaries in South L.A. 

Last week, LAPD officers served a search warrant and closed an illegal dispensary at 8931 S. Broadway in Harris-Dawson’s 8th District as part of a multi-pronged approach to close similar businesses. Cease and desist letters have been delivered to 231 illegal businesses and property owners, and the city’s Department of Water and Power has shut off utilities at 193 illegal dispensaries via a new ordinance. More than 45 illegal dispensaries have been shut down in 2019 so far.

“Illegal dispensaries are a serious concern in City Council District 8,” said Harris-Dawson in a written statement. “Some intersections have two or three illegal dispensaries. There was a homicide at an illegal dispensary a few blocks away from the illegal dispensary we shut down on Aug. 28 that same night!”

Harris-Dawson also introduced a motion two weeks ago allowing Building and Safety to padlock, board up or fence off businesses that sell marijuana illegally without a license. Councilwoman Monica Rodriguez supported the motion and proposed a new city policy that would charge the operators of the illegal businesses the costs of the enforcement actions. The motion will come before council for final approval, but a date has not been set yet.

“City Council District 8 has far too many illegal dispensaries, and we cannot allow this to mirror liquor stores in the 1980s, 90s and 2000s,” Harris-Dawson said. “We have over 70 illegal dispensaries in our district, and dozens are still listed on platforms like Weedmaps. This is an issue of equity, not an assault on cannabis users or sellers.

“Illegal dispensaries poison our neighborhoods and their own customers by operating dangerous unregulated businesses. Additionally, these illegal actors make it difficult for legal dispensaries to operate successfully, including Cannabis Social Equity Program participants. I’m committed to ensuring that [legal] participants are successful and enforcement actions to address the abundance of illegal dispensaries is a necessary step.”

The Department of Cannabis Regulations implements equitable cannabis programs, including the Social Equity program, which Harris-Dawson said is a priority program. It works to repair the harm caused by the war on drugs and the disparate enforcement of cannabis prohibition along with promoting equitable ownership and employment opportunities in the cannabis industry.

“The Mayor’s Cannabis Task Force is a great example of the city family coming together to develop a progressive cannabis enforcement strategy that prioritizes equity and saves extreme punitive measures for the most serious offenders,” said Cat Packer, executive director of the city Department of Cannabis Regulation. “Shutting down these persistent offenders will help to create more opportunities for legal cannabis businesses to contribute to their communities and the city while draining resources from the illegal market.”

There are several concerns for illegal dispensaries, such as the negative impact on the health and character of South L.A neighborhoods and the customers — the businesses can sell unregulated products, and they can sell to minors. Some illegal dispensaries run generators on the rooftops to continue operations after utilities are shut off, Harris-Dawson said.

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