Many unlicensed cannabis dispensaries are located in unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County, even though these types of businesses are banned. Many are concentrated in low-income neighborhoods and communities of color. These unlicensed shops adversely affect local communities, forcing nearby residents and businesses to contend with pungent odors, littering, and parking issues. These illegal cannabis businesses often sell untested cannabis products that may contain harmful pesticides that could harm consumers. To ensure appropriate enforcement of the cannabis ban, today the Board of Supervisors approved a motion, authored by Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda L. Solis and Supervisor Janice Hahn, that would launch a new enforcement plan to close all unlicensed cannabis stores in unincorporated areas of the County.

“Los Angeles County is committed to shutting down illegal cannabis businesses. Many of these businesses are concentrated in low-income neighborhoods that are already overburdened by liquor stores and other public health concerns. These unpermitted businesses are open at all hours, compromising the quality of life for many law-abiding residents,” said Supervisor Solis. “Before regulations allowing the sale of cannabis can be implemented, existing laws must be enforced. We will diligently work to implement a comprehensive enforcement program that will protect our local communities from the negative impacts of these unlicensed establishments while respecting the intent of California’s voters who supported the legalization of cannabis.”

“Unincorporated communities have been frustrated by how long it has taken the County to shut down illegal cannabis businesses operating in their neighborhoods,” said Supervisor Janice Hahn, who coauthored today’s motion. “Today we are charting a new path forward and allowing our departments to work creatively to use every tool at their disposal to shut down illegal dispensaries quickly and permanently.”

In 2016, 57 percent of voters throughout the state of California approved Proposition 64, which established a system in which the state licenses cannabis businesses, only after a business receives a permit by the city or county in which it plans to operate.

The County continues to seek ways to overcome challenges in preventing unlicensed cannabis stores from operating in unincorporated areas. In 2016, the Medical Marijuana Dispensary Enforcement Team (MMDET), consisting of representatives from County Counsel, the District Attorney, the Sheriff’s Department, and the County Department of Regional Planning, has monitored and investigated reports of illegal cannabis activities and has taken action against these illegal businesses, resulting in the closure of many of these shops. An enhanced enforcement team, armed with the comprehensive tools needed to implement effective and targeted closures in areas with a high concentration of unpermitted dispensaries, is key in successfully shuttering these shops.

In July 2017, the County expanded an existing ban on medical marijuana dispensaries to include all types of commercial cannabis activity, including commercial cultivation, manufacturing, processing, testing, transportation, and retail sale of medical and non-medical cannabis. Since unlicensed cannabis stores operate without a permit, they do not pay taxes on the cannabis-related products they sell, giving them an unfair advantage over other local businesses that operate with licenses and permits.

In July 2018, the Board of Supervisors directed the Department of Consumer and Business Affairs’ (DCBA) Office of Cannabis Management (OCM) to develop an innovative plan to close unlicensed cannabis stores. On May 6, the OCM submitted its plan, which includes a public awareness campaign to educate residents on the risks associated with patronizing an unlicensed cannabis business. 

Today’s motion directs County Counsel, the County’s Chief Executive Office, the Sheriff’s Department, and the Departments of Fire, Public Health, Public Works, Regional Planning, the Treasurer and Tax Collector, and other departments and agencies as appropriate, to launch the County’s Unlicensed Cannabis Business Closure Plan, which will rely on enhanced protocols for closures such as the seizure of products and lockdowns of physical premises and utilities shutoffs.

The motion also authorizes DCBA to prepare an educational outreach campaign to promote this closure plan. Today’s Board motion also directs County Counsel, along with the CEO and DCBA, to evaluate the availability of funding for the closure plan from civil penalties paid to the County under the California Unfair Business Practices Act.

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Contact: Rosa Maria Santana, Deputy Communications Director, rsantana@bos.lacounty.gov, or 213-359-0795