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NAJEE’S NOTES: City taking steps to curtail illegal cannabis shops

I had the opportunity to attend a press conference Aug. 28 at the Southeast Police Station concerning the overwhelming amount of illegal cannabis shops.

Los Angeles City Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson was joined by a host of city leaders that included Mayor Eric Garcetti, LAPD Chief Michel Moore and Cat Packer who is heading up the Mayor’s Office and the city’s new Cannabis Enforcement Task Force in a coordinated enforcement effort to suppress illegal dispensaries in Los Angeles.

“City Council District 8 has far too many illegal dispensaries and we cannot allow this to mirror liquor stores in the 80s, 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 SEP participants are successful and enforcement actions to address the abundance of illegal dispensaries is a necessary step.” Harris-Dawson added.

My work as a member of the Mayor’s Crisis Response Team allows me to drive all over South L.A. every week. I see firsthand illegal dispensaries in every South L.A. neighborhood I work in. Sometimes there are two or three illegal dispensaries on a block. This is a quality of life issue.

I  commend Harris-Dawson and all the city leaders for making this issue a priority in South Los Angeles.

It was two years ago this month that Mayor Garcetti appointed Packer as executive director of the newly established Los Angeles Department of Cannabis Regulation.

“Taxing and regulating legal cannabis in Los Angeles will be a complex process,” Garcetti said at the time. “We need someone leading the effort who understands and can navigate those nuances. Cat’s experience makes her an excellent fit for this new role. I am confident that her work will help us implement new regulations in a way that is fair and equitable for all of our communities, respects our neighborhoods and raises valuable new revenue for city services.”

Packer has spent much of her career working on issues of cannabis reform. Prior to joining the city, she worked as a policy coordinator for the Drug Policy Alliance, where she advocated for responsible cannabis policy across California.

In her role, Packer has launched the department and led implementation of the new cannabis regulations that were developed by the City Council, city attorney and Department of City Planning.

The Department of Cannabis Regulations implements equitable cannabis programs including the Cannabis Social Equity Program. In addition to promoting equitable ownership and employment opportunities in the cannabis industry, SEP works to repair the harm caused by the war on drugs and the disparate enforcement of cannabis prohibition.

Packer, who also spoke at this week’s press conference, stated that “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.

“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.”     

Illegal dispensaries negatively impact the health and character of South Los Angeles neighborhoods and harm their own customers. Some illegal dispensaries have gone as far as running generators on their rooftops to continue operations after utilities are shut off and show little regard for the communities that house them.

The revenue raised by the local taxation of cannabis has the potential to raise millions of dollars in new general fund revenue, which can be used to expand and improve basic city services. That is a major reason why Illegal dispensaries must be shut down. 

Packer along with other city leaders will have their hands full, but I’m confident they have the strength, determination and political will to get the job done.

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