L.A. Finance Dept. Keeps List of ‘Illegal Pot Shops’ Quiet

As police and city officials struggle to find and close scofflaws.

By EGP & City News Service

A list of more than 800 potentially illegal medical marijuana dispensaries was not shared with the Los Angeles Police Department and other officials responsible for shutting down such shops, city officials said during a Los Angeles City Council committee meeting Monday.

The city Office of Finance has a list of 972 medical marijuana dispensaries registered to pay taxes to the city, but the police department and other city officials who reported to the Budget and Finance Committee meeting Monday appeared not to be using the list for enforcement purposes.

An overwhelming majority of the businesses registered with the city could be illegal under Proposition D, approved by voters last year. The measure limited legal dispensaries to a list of 135 that registered with the city prior to September 2007 and placed restrictions on their operation.

Authorities have shut down Club 58 in Highland Park.  The dispensary was located next to a women’s health center.  (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Authorities have shut down Club 58 in Highland Park. The dispensary was located next to a women’s health center. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

The city has the names and addresses of the dispensaries, and since the measure went into effect, the city has collected $2.1 million from medical dispensaries that renewed their tax certificates, finance officials told the Budget and Finance Committee.

“Okay, we have a significant disconnect here guys,” said Krekorian, after verifying with finance officials that of the 972 business tax certificates on file, no more than 135 could possibly be for legal dispensaries.

Krekorian then asked finance officials if they could “provide your list of names and addresses to the Police Department and the City Attorney’s Office so that they can compare it against the Prop D compliant list and begin enforcing against the more than 800 operations that are illegal?”

“I’m struggling to deal with how it is that we’re not staying more ahead of the curve in the enforcement of Prop D,” Krekorian said.

In February, EGP reported that the city attorney was at the time pursuing legal action against more than 70 marijuana dispensary operators it believed to be illegal. Confusion over who could legally operate a marijuana dispensary and where it could be located, seemed to allow many new operators to fly under the radar, reported EGP staff writer Jacqueline Garcia.

Resale permits issued by the State Board of Equalization further confused the situation, wrongly leading some dispensary operators, and the property owners who leased them space, to believe that they could open for business.

“There is no way to track when dispensaries open,” Fredy Ceja, spokesperson for Councilman Gil Cedillo told EGP in February. “Illegal dispensaries are usually observed by staff observation or driven by community complaints,” he said, when asked if the councilman was aware of the “Club 58” dispensary that had opened in Highland Park next to women’s health clinic, and whether it was legal?

Authorities have since shut down Club 58.

Senior Lead Officer John Pedroza previously told EGP that LAPD officers visit suspicious dispensaries and if they see something wrong they follow up. “Distribution is still against federal law but state laws don’t know what to do,” Pedroza said.

Four months later, it appears not much has changed in how the illegal operators come to light.

LAPD Capt. Anne Clark previously told the panel the number of illegal dispensaries is “forever a moving target.”

The police department is relying on senior lead officers to do counts of the potentially illegal dispensaries within their beats, according to Clark.

Building and Safety officials also told the panel they had been unsure if they could get access to the Finance Office’s list of businesses registered as pot shops, so it would be difficult for them to respond to a request to map the location of potentially illegal dispensaries.

The Finance Office’s list of registered medical marijuana dispensaries is “publicly available information,” Councilman Bob Blumenfield, another member of the committee, pointed out.

“It’s stuff that ultimately we want to see up on the web with all of our open data movement, so I don’t see any legal reason why you can’t just turn around and hand it to him,” Blumenfield said.

The committee Monday officially instructed the Finance Office to forward the list to the Police Department and the City Attorney’s Office.

Councilman Mike Bonin, who sits on the committee, also requested a copy of the list, while Krekorian said he plans to post it on his website.

The panel also recommended the Finance, Police and Information Technology Agency officials explore the idea of “crowd-sourcing,” which would involve asking the public to help identify dispensaries in their communities, potentially using the city’s existing 311 phone app.

The city needs all the help it can get, Krekorian said.

“We’re playing whack-a-mole here,” he said.

The Budget and Finance Committee’s recommendations will now go to the full City Council for a vote.

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June 19, 2014  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.


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