County Working to Shut Down Illegal Marijuana Dispensaries

April 20, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Lawyers for Los Angeles County recommended a “surge strategy’’ Tuesday to shut down medical marijuana dispensaries operating illegally in the face of a ban in effect in unincorporated areas.

The county’s legal team told the Board of Supervisors that they had closed 60 dispensaries between 2011-16 and another 31 after the board asked for a crackdown in March 2016.

Enforcement is pending against another 49 dispensaries and lawyers are prepping to force 26 more to close. That would account for all the marijuana retailers identified by the county to date, though new shops continue to pop up.

County counsel estimated that it would take four to six months to close the remaining 75 on the county’s hit list if more county lawyers were hired to team up with the District Attorney’s Office.

“County Counsel and the District Attorney recommend an aggressive, uniform and expeditious enforcement ‘surge strategy’ against illegal MMDs (medical marijuana dispensaries),” lead counsel Mary Wickham wrote in a letter to the board.

Though a county ban on dispensaries has been in place since 2011, enforcing a zero-tolerance policy has proven difficult.

Dispensaries shut down and then open up under different names, creating a game of “whack-a-mole” for enforcement agencies, said Lance Wong, head deputy of the district attorney’s Major Narcotics Division.

The lucrative nature of the business means that entrepreneurs fight hard to keep their dispensaries open, with some filing civil suits against the county. Wong said another problem is that some people mistakenly believe that dispensaries are legal everywhere.

In addition to bringing the hammer down on dispensaries, the county has banned cultivation and distribution of marijuana in unincorporated areas. That ordinance is set to expire in June, but county counsel said it would be rolled into a new regulation.

Landlords are also prohibited by county law from renting to dispensaries.

Supervisor Kathryn Barger said it was tough for landlords to turn down the premiums being offered by some would-be dispensary operators and stressed the importance of educating property owners.

Barger also highlighted public safety concerns that surround dispensaries that operate as all-cash businesses, reminding colleagues of an dispensary employee murdered in her district.

Supervisor Hilda Solis echoed that concern and also worried aloud about dispensaries near schools.

Many residents agreed. “This has to stop. We are overpopulated with these stores. There’s at

least 50 within a five-mile radius,” East Los Angeles resident Jeseus Huertas told the board. “We need some regulations.”

Supervisor Janice Hahn said she’d like to see more enforcement in her district, which stretches along the South Bay and then along the border with Orange County out to Diamond Bar.

“There’s a ban. They’re illegal. They ought to be shut down,” Hahn said.

Recent enforcement has focused on Solis’ First District, which runs from downtown Los Angeles east to Pomona and south to South Gate. Twenty-five of the 31 dispensaries shut down in the last year were in those neighborhoods.

The county crackdown comes as other jurisdictions seek to profit from the statewide legislation of recreational marijuana, approved by voters in November.

Recreational sales will not begin under the new law until January, but some residents and business owners urged the county to focus on licensing and regulating dispensaries rather than banning them.

“If the goal is to maximize the transition from the illicit market to the regulated market, then we should try and figure out how to transition some of these operators,” said Cat Packer, California policy coordinator for the Drug Policy Alliance. “We need a surge of economic opportunities for communities.”

Under the state law, local jurisdictions can only ban commercial activities and outdoor cultivation, something county lawyers are preparing to do.

“Why continue to wage a battle that you obviously are losing?,” resident David Green asked the board. “Almost 60 percent of the voters thought recreational use was fine.”

Other advocates stressed the drug’s medicinal value.

“Cannabis is an exit drug (for me),” said Alexis D’Angelo of Women Grow Los Angeles. D’Angelo called the drug life-saving, telling the board she was able to wean herself off six pharmaceutical drugs and stay away from alcohol by substituting marijuana.

The report by county counsel required no vote by the board and no action was taken.

The county has set up an anonymous tip line, residents can call (213) 974-6453 to report dispensaries.

 

Recreational Marijuana Legalized in California: What You Need to Know

November 17, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – At the stroke of midnight Nov. 8, recreational use of marijuana became legal in California – but there are a few important details about the new law 7.

It now is legal for adults age 21 and older to possess up to one ounce of marijuana or eight grams of concentrated cannabis for personal use. People can carry that amount around, but if they’re in a car it must be in a locked container.

Dale Gieringer, director of the California chapter of the National Organization for Reforming Marijuana Laws (NORML), said there are limits on how much people are allowed to grow.

“They can also grow up to six plants at their residence in a secure, locked location,” he said, “preferably indoors, but outdoors in locations that permit it.”

Use of medical marijuana continues as before. Retail sales of recreational marijuana won’t be allowed until state-licensed businesses open their doors in January 2018.

Gieringer said it’s important to note that lighting up in public is still a no-no.

“People should also beware that there is no public use allowed,” he said, “so, no smoking or consumption of any sort of marijuana in a public place. You have to do it privately; and no smoking or even vaping in nonsmoking areas.”

It also is illegal to smoke or vaporize marijuana at or within 1,000 feet of a daycare or school, except in a private residence that happens to be near those types of facilities.

More information about Proposition 64 from the California Secretary of State’s office is online at voterguide.sos.ca.gov.

 

Prop 64 Would Legalize, Tax Marijuana for Recreational Use

November 3, 2016 by · 1 Comment 

The recreational use of marijuana and hemp would become legal, with sales taxes imposed upon them, under an initiative going before California voters on Nov. 8.

Proposition 64 would also establish packaging, labeling, advertising and marketing standards and restrictions for marijuana products, including prohibiting marketing and advertising marijuana to minors.

The initiative also authorizes re-sentencing and destruction of records for prior marijuana convictions.

The measure would impose a state excise tax on retail sales of marijuana equal to 15 percent of the sales price and state cultivation taxes on marijuana of $9.25 per ounce of flowers and $2.75 per ounce of leaves.

The initiative allows for local regulation and taxation of marijuana and exempts medical marijuana from some taxation.

Passage of the initiative would result in net reduced costs ranging from tens of millions of dollars to potentially exceeding $100 million annually to state and local governments related to enforcing certain marijuana-related offenses, handling the related criminal cases in the court system and incarcerating and supervising certain marijuana offenders, according to an analysis conducted by the Legislative Analyst’s Office and Department of Finance.

The analysis also found passage would result in net additional state and local tax revenues potentially ranging from the high hundreds of millions of dollars to more than $1 billion annually related to the production and sale of marijuana. Most of these funds would be required to be spent for specific purposes such as substance use disorder education, prevention and treatment.

Hemp is a variety of the cannabis plant that is grown specifically for the industrial uses of its products. It can be refined into a variety of commercial items including paper, textiles, clothing, biodegradable plastics, paint, insulation, biofuel, food and animal feed.

Opponents — including Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. — argue that legalizing marijuana will lead to a sharp increase highway fatalities and impaired driving, noting there is no current standard for determining if a driver is “impaired” by marijuana. They also argue the measure would permit marijuana farms near schools and public parks and will lead to a proliferation of “pot shops,” particularly in inner-city communities.

Detractors also contend the measure would allow prime-time television advertisements for marijuana, exposing children to the drug. Backers of the measure flatly deny that the proposition includes any such provision and includes strict requirements to prevent marketing or sale of marijuana to children.

Pot’s Hidden Price

October 27, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

“It’s just a plant” is a common refrain from those who want to legalize the leaf, but a recent study of cannabis production argues that the environmental impact of marijuana farming must be considered — especially as more states move toward further legalization this election season.

The study was conducted by Jake Brenner, an assistant professor in the Department of Environmental Studies and Sciences at Ithaca College, and Van Bustic, a specialist at the University of California Cooperative Extension. It was published earlier this year in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

The study also highlights the lack of published, peer-reviewed empirical research on all aspects of cannabis agriculture, which is already a multi-billion dollar industry in the United States despite still being listed as a Schedule 1 drug by the federal government.

Location, location

The amount of land and water used for growing cannabis has not traditionally been a concern, especially when compared to other agricultural products grown in California. But where the cannabis is grown has potential ecological consequences.

Brenner and Bustic examined grow sites in three northern California counties and found that their usual placement had potentially negative impacts on two threatened fish species.

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Aerial view of marijuana plants and cannabis agriculture.

That’s because the sites are typically placed on remote plots of land in forested areas, many on steep slopes. Access roads need to be created and swaths of land cleared for production, regardless of whether the cannabis is grown outdoors or in a greenhouse; that increases potential for soil erosion and chemical run-off into streams in which the Chinook salmon and steelhead trout live.

The fish are also susceptible to harm from a decrease in water flow as a result of the cannabis agriculture.

“Siting grows in areas with better access to roads, gentler slopes, and ample water resources could significantly reduce threats to the environment,” Brenner and Bustic write. “Future cannabis policy should take into consideration the potential for mitigating environmental impacts through land-use planning.”

Know before you grow 

Brenner and Bustic say their study, which covers the watersheds of northern California’s Humbolt County, is an example of the sort of survey and analysis that could be done — and is necessary — anywhere cannabis agriculture takes place.

And while California is taking efforts to encourage local governments to create land-use policies for cannabis agriculture, they argue that more research on marijuana farming needs to be done.“Land-use science on cannabis agriculture lags behind research on other crops, but advances in the field will be crucial for predicting future cannabis expansion and moderating its impacts,” they write.

That multi-billion marijuana production industry is only going to grow: This November, voters in Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada will decide whether to allow their states to legalize and tax recreational marijuana; while voters in Arkansas, Florida, Montana and North Dakota will head to the polls to determine whether their states will allow medicinal uses of marijuana, joining the 25 other states that already do so.

Pot Use May Cause More Accidents, Warns AAA

October 6, 2016 by · 3 Comments 

Drug-impaired driving is a rising problem statewide and nationally, and a proposal to legalize recreational marijuana in California could make it worse, the Automobile Club of Southern California warned Wednesday.

According to the Auto Club, nearly 20 percent of fatal collisions in California involve at least one driver who tested positive for drugs.

“The problem extends beyond recreational marijuana and illegal drug usage — many prescription drugs can impair skills that are critical to driving,” said Kathy Sieck, senior vice president of public affairs for the Auto Club.

The Auto Club is on record opposing Proposition 64, which would legalize recreational marijuana use in the state for people age 21 and older. Sieck said approval of the measure could contribute to an already growing problem of drug-impaired motorists.

“Prop. 64 is a gamble on the public’s safety, which isn’t a risk worth taking, especially when drug-impaired driving is on the rise,” she said.

Sieck’s comments came as the Auto Club convenes a “Drugged Driving” summit at the Petersen Automotive Museum, themed “Is California Prepared for What’s Next?” The gathering will include drugged-driving and public-policy experts discussing their findings on the effects of marijuana and other drugs on traffic safety.

Proponents of the measure insist the proposal includes a requirement for an extensive public-health information campaign that will include information about the dangers of driving while impaired by marijuana, “and the potential harms of using marijuana,” according to Californians for Responsible Marijuana Reform.

The group also contends the measure will provide $3 million a year to the California Highway Patrol to develop updated DUI protocols for determining when a driver is marijuana-impaired. It would also impose restrictions on acquisition of marijuana, including “strict safeguards against children accessing it.”

Jake Nelson, director of AAA Traffic Safety, Advocacy and Research, noted that its research found that after Washington legalized recreational marijuana, fatal crashes involving drivers who had recently used marijuana more than doubled.

“More studies are needed, and it is worrisome that five states this year, including California, are considering a far-reaching policy change that could have unintended consequences for traffic safety, the emergency medical system, law enforcement and the courts,” he said.

What About a Tax On Marijuana Businesses?

July 14, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

How quickly things change.

It wasn’t too long ago that the prospect of legalizing marijuana for recreational use was unthinkable, and now the Los Angeles Count Board of Supervisors want voters in November to approve a special marijuana business tax of up to 10 percent of gross receipts to fund the fight against homelessness.

We have little objection to the tax, since pot usage is sometimes associated with the homeless.

We find it ironic, perhaps even sad, that we are now at the point where our local elected officials are discussing ways to collect taxes from a business that is simply a cash-cow for its purveyors.

How does this jive with federal law? We’ve seen on the medical dispensary side that operators work with cash, unable to deposit their gains in banks.

Is the County prepared to hire a fleet of armored cares to collect the taxes? Will the armored cars, loaded with cash, become targets of heavily armed hijackers?

It’s time to change the laws that prevent operators of marijuana-related business from using our banking system, and for them to be required to pay their share of taxes owed into a government account.

We also want to know how government auditors will go about enforcing the taxes to make sure operators are not getting away with paying less than what they owe.

As it looks now, the November ballot will be loaded down with dozens of initiatives and taxing measures for voters to decide. Many will increase sales, parcel, or income taxes to pay for transportation projects, parks, homeless housing and services.

The question is, with so many tax hikes on the ballot, will voters rebel.

It seems to us that a tax on marijuana producers is not likely to be viewed by most voters as another hit to their wallet.

Marijuana Grow Operation Residence Discovered in Commerce

February 12, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Los Angeles County firefighters discovered a marijuana grow operation at a residence in Commerce on Friday after they responded to reports of a fire outside the home, authorities said.
The fire outside a residence in the 5700 block of Jillson Street was reported at 2:40 a.m., said Los Angeles County Fire Department Dispatch Supervisor Kyle Sanford. The fire was knocked down at 3:17 a.m., Sanford said, and no injuries were reported.
Firefighters then discovered a marijuana grow operation on the property and summoned sheriff’s deputies, according to the sheriff’s department. The discovery of the grow operation was confirmed by sheriff’s Lt. R. Medrano, watch commander at the sheriff’s East L.A. Station.

L.A. Ends Tax Licensing of ‘Illegal Pot Shops’

January 21, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

The city will stop issuing new business tax certificates to medical marijuana dispensaries under an ordinance approved Tuesday by the Los Angeles City Council.

Despite the 2013 voter approval of Proposition D, which banned most medical marijuana businesses in Los Angeles, city finance officials have continued to issue tax certificates and collect taxes from them, illegal or not.

Some medical pot shops in the city are still allowed to operate due to exceptions in Proposition D, but finance officials said they are unequipped to determine whether a medical marijuana dispensary is in compliance and must leave the potentially complex legal question to be sorted out by city attorneys.

City leaders said collecting taxes while also banning medical marijuana businesses sends a mixed message, prompting them to simply cut off the issuance of any new tax registrations.

The ordinance approved by the City Council Tuesday calls for no new tax registration certificates to be issued for “any medical marijuana collective business activity.” The mayor must also sign off on the ordinance before it can go into effect.

Councilman Joe Buscaino said the few pot shops that are allowed under Proposition D had to have already registered by September 2007, so this new ordinance “finally puts an end to the issuance of business tax licenses to illegal pot shops in the city of L.A.”

He said by halting the issuance of new tax certificates to dispensaries, the city will be “inhibiting fraudulent activity” and curbing what appears to be an increase in dispensaries despite the enactment of Proposition D.

Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson said a “mix” of illegal and legal pot shops has “hijacked storefronts” in his district for medical marijuana sales.

“This was one of the main issues that came up in almost every neighborhood house meeting,” he said.

Some city officials have accused medical marijuana dispensaries of using the tax certificates to trick landlords and others into thinking they are permitted businesses.

“As much as we try to shut the illegal ones down, they turn around and we issue a BTRC (business tax registration certificate) to them,” City Councilwoman Nury Martinez told City News Service last fall.

The city collected $4.4 million from 447 dispensaries toward the end of last year, even though only an estimated 100 or so dispensaries were thought to be in compliance with Proposition D.

The city collected $5 million in 2014 from 519 tax registration certificate holders that identify themselves as marijuana businesses.

The ordinance adopted Tuesday was based on the idea that any newly registered medical marijuana business could not possibly qualify for the exception in Proposition D, which gives immunity to businesses that can show they registered by a certain date and comply with several other requirements.

The ordinance also makes it a misdemeanor for a business operator to lie on an affidavit attesting that the dispensary complies with Proposition D.

The ordinance makes filling out the affidavits a part of the process of registration renewal, which is done through the annual payment of taxes.

Displaying or maintaining “expired, suspended or otherwise invalid” tax certificates will also be considered a misdemeanor under the ordinance.

City officials are also working to change the color of the tax certificates and include language to make it clearer that such certificates are only for “tax compliance purposes,” according to city attorneys. Efforts are also underway to stop giving medical marijuana businesses the ability to register for tax certificates or file taxes online.

Holding a certificate does not indicate that a business is legal, only that the business has applied to pay taxes to the city. Medical marijuana businesses that are permitted to operate under Proposition D are required to pay business taxes to the city.

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