The Largest Crackdown on Illegal Cannabis Shops in Los Angeles

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From December 10 – 12, investigators with the state’s Bureau of Cannabis Control and the Department of Consumer Affairs’ Cannabis Enforcement Unit served search warrants at dozens of cannabis retailers, rounding up and arresting staff and confiscating products and cash.

The week-long mass raids represent the largest crackdown on the illicit cannabis industry in Los Angeles. And chief cannabis regulators vow there’s more to come.

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The state has been under pressure from California’s legal industry to do more to stop the underground pot economy, which in Los Angeles and other cities often operates in plain sight. According to some estimates, roughly 75% of sales in the state remain under the table, snatching profits from legal storefronts.

Investigators from the state Bureau of Cannabis Control and the Department of Consumer Affairs’ Cannabis Enforcement Unit served search warrants at 24 unlicensed shops from Tuesday through Thursday. They seized $8.8 million in cannabis products, confiscated nearly 10,000 illegal vape pens and $129,000 in cash, the bureau said.

At one unlicensed cannabis dispensary raided Thursday afternoon in Palms, more than $300,000 in illegal products were seized.

Officers with the state Department of Consumer Affairs and Los Angeles Police Department served a search warrant about 1:50 p.m. to Save Greens at 11221 Venice Blvd., according to the LAPD and the Bureau of Cannabis Control.

They cited six people, whose charges are pending, and found more than 600 illegal vapes, according to the bureau.

California officials have long-known that the process of ousting the state’s illicit cannabis market and replacing it with a licensed, regulated industry wouldn’t be easy. Legalizing the sale of recreational cannabis, phased in January 2018 after November 2016’s yes vote on Proposition 64, was supposed to take a chunk out of the illegal market. But legal retail has barely made a dent in it.

“In California, we have a challenge with the illegal cannabis market, and as we’re trying to stand up the legal industry, we’re also trying to minimize the illegal industry,” said Alex Traverso, spokesman for the Bureau of Cannabis Control. “Part of that is following up on complaints we receive about unlicensed shops, and a pretty large portion of the unlicensed shops happen to be in Southern California.”

The bureau receives hundreds of complaints about unlicensed dispensaries, Traverso said.

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The week’s crackdown was praised by the United Cannabis Business Assn., a Los Angeles-based industry group that has been urging the state to do more to shut down rogue operators.

“For a long time we have been playing a game of whack-a-mole, targeting and shutting down a small handful of illegal shops at a time, only to have them reopen days later in the same location or down the street,” said Jerred Kiloh, who heads the group.

After serving a search warrant, officers will take “everything that’s not bolted down to the floor,” including any cannabis products or plants, to thwart a shop’s efforts to reopen, he said.

Ideally, investigators want to find a shop’s owner during a raid, but often they aren’t present; instead, employees at the shop might be arrested or cited, depending on several factors.

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The state’s top cannabis regulator, Lori Ajax, signaled that more was to come. “We look forward to working with local jurisdictions and law enforcement as we continue to shut down unlicensed operators,” she said.

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