The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted cannabis enforcement initiatives in Los Angeles and caused critical budget shortfalls that could further hinder efforts to crack down on unlicensed marijuana operators.
That one-two punch could present a major obstacle to the success of L.A.’s legal market.
Reducing the number of illicit cannabis sellers and growers in Los Angeles has long been a top priority for licensed businesses, which say they cannot compete on pricing since legal recreational sales took effect in January 2018.
Part of the problem: A push to enforce a new ordinance targeting landlords and property owners of unlicensed cannabis shops has been on hold since March. That’s when many city services and offices were shuttered to mitigate the proliferation of COVID-19 cases in Los Angeles County.
“Hopefully by end of June or July, we’ll have that available,” said Vito Ceccia, a detective in the L.A. Police Department’s Gang and Narcotics Division Cannabis Support Unit.But there is hope the situation could turn around sooner than later and the so-called padlock ordinance can be enforced.
“It’s probably going to be the most effective and significant tool we have been able to implement.”
Once enforcement efforts get rolling, unlicensed locations with repeated search warrants will be targeted first.
After occupants have been cited and removed, the property would be padlocked and issued a no-trespass order.
“Our primary focus is still unlicensed retail locations,” Ceccia said. “They’re the ones interrupting the quality of life in those areas.
“They’re the ones engaging in activity openly.”
Unlicensed stores have been a thorn in the side of Studio City-based medical and recreational cannabis retailer Buds & Roses for more than a decade.
Like many in the industry, the company saw sales jump during the onset of the pandemic, but it’s seen fewer customers and smaller volume purchases since economic conditions worsened.
“The illicit market is thriving because of the economic fallout of COVID-19,” Buds & Roses President Aaron Justis said.
The LAPD, which serves about 25 cannabis-related warrants every month, estimates 75 unlicensed retailers are operating within the sprawling city limits, down from 82 in February, according to Marijuana Business Daily research.
Published: June 17, 2020
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