Los Angeles illegal marijuana, California cannabis trade group threatens to sue L.A. over lack of enforcement against illegal shops

Unlicensed marijuana shops still plague Los Angeles’ legal cannabis operators, and the California Minority Alliance (CMA) said it may sue the city attorney’s office if the agency doesn’t step up enforcement efforts against illicit businesses.

The organization sent a letter to L.A. City Attorney Mike Feuer seeking more enforcement against illegal shops, which some estimate still number in the hundreds. The potential lawsuit underscores the continued threat that unlicensed retailers pose to the city’s legal businesses.

The CMA, which aims to support minority participation in the state’s marijuana industries, argued in the letter that the city isn’t utilizing “easy fixes.”

According to the letter, lawbreaking MJ shops in South Los Angeles have “been overlooked and ignored” by the city attorney’s office and the “lack of enforcement has turned safe communities into havens for illicit activity encouraging the proliferation of unlawful cannabis operations.”

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If enforcement isn’t ramped up, the organization plans to “push action by filing a class action lawsuit against the City of Los Angeles Attorney’s Office” on behalf of licensed marijuana shop owners, social equity business license applicants and South L.A. community leaders.

The city attorney’s office and mayor’s office did not immediately respond to Marijuana Business Daily‘s requests for comment.

L.A. City Council President Herb Wesson spokesman Michael Tonetti wrote in an email to MJBizDaily that the city attorney’s office should “use every tool at its disposal to enforce the law as instructed by the voters of Los Angeles with the passage of Measure M.”

Tonetti was referring to a 2017 ballot measure that authorized new city enforcement tools against lawbreaking marijuana dealers, including $20,000-a-day fines.

“Proactive enforcement of illegal cannabis shops is critical to the effective regulation of this new industry and the success of the City’s Social Equity Program,” Tonetti added.

The United Cannabis Business Alliance (UCBA), a coalition of licensed L.A. cannabis shops, said in a statement it “supports all efforts to eradicate illegal cannabis sales. That’s why we are sponsoring (Assembly Bill) 1417 to hit at the lifeblood of the illicit market especially in Los Angeles – Weedmaps’ continued position to provide advertising to illegal operators.”

The city – especially the city attorney’s office – hasn’t been completely idle with regard to L.A.’s illicit MJ market:

  • Feuer launched a crackdown in April that included a civil lawsuit against one unlicensed business and several associates. The suit sought to utilize the city’s $20,000-a-day penalty for illegal MJ operations for the first time – a legal tactic the CMA wants to see used more frequently against more illegal shops.
  • Feuer’s office noted that, from May 2018 to April 2019, 217 criminal cases were filed involving 172 illegal shops and 840 defendants. At least 113 illegal shops were closed.
  • The L.A. City Council in March authorized utilities to be cut off at locations that were selling marijuana without proper permits.

John Schroyer can be reached at johns@mjbizdaily.com