Illegal Pot Shops Get a 4/20 Reprieve From L.A. County

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WEDNESDAY, APRIL 19, 2017 AT 5:57 A.M.

More than two dozen pot shops in unincorporated Los Angeles County have been targeted for closure by the sheriff’s Medical Marijuana Dispensary Enforcement Team, according to a report from county counsel Mary C. Wickham.

But yesterday the Board of Supervisors took no action to fund the team’s “surge strategy.” The board voted only to accept the report.

Angeles Emeralds, a group representing county cannabis collectives, considers the move to be a reprieve of sorts on the week of the 4/20 holiday.

“I’ll take it as a victory,” Angeles Emeralds co-founder Jonatan Cvetko says.

Kathleen Villarreal, a business consultant who works with county cannabis retailers, noted that the unofficial marijuana holiday has seen sheriff’s crackdowns in the past. “Up until today, we were thinking we might have busts this 4/20,” she says. “The vote definitely gave us a breath of fresh air. Every single day we wake up, we don’t know whether or not those doors are coming down.”

Since 2011, when the board outlawed all dispensaries in unincorporated communities, prosecutors have snuffed out 31 shops, with another 49 facing prosecution in court, according to the report. Twenty-six other shops have been relatively untouched but are the “next targets” under that surge strategy that would take them out, the report states.

According to the office of County Supervisor Hilda Solis, the goal of county government is to wipe out the entire medical marijuana community in unincorporated areas and start over with yet-to-be-approved permitted shops — both medical and recreational ones — in 2018.

“I have heard from many of my constituents that unregulated dispensaries keep popping up in their own backyards and near schools,” Solis said via email. “I understand that the voters have spoken when it comes to legalizing marijuana, but what is happening right now in East Los Angeles is out of control. My constituents are concerned, and that’s why I called for today’s report … on enforcement.”

She added: “The reality is, marijuana is legal and I support regulation and a regulatory structure. Come January 2018, we need to make sure dispensaries are up to code and do not pose a public health threat to both consumers and communities.”

The county’s chief executive officer, Sachi A. Hamai, suggested in a March memo that at least some of the money from a $25 million settlement with Wells Fargo over its alleged creation of fake customer accounts be used to fund the recommended surge against pot shops.

Advocates for medical marijuana dispensaries argue that it’s a bad idea to annihilate the existing businesses and start over, because many of those shops are good actors that would be well qualified to become legit once the board moves forward with permitting.

“They look forward to being regulated, ” Cvetko says.