L.A. Pot Shops Want Authorities to Back Off

Should weed shops get a reprieve?
Should weed shops get a reprieve?
Nanette Gonzales

In March, Los Angeles voters overwhelmingly approved a proposition that aims to expand the marijuana business while also fully legalizing it. If all goes according to plan, pot shops, growers, delivery services and even edibles makers will be able to get licenses from City Hall next year, as soon as state law starts allowing for the sale of recreational weed.

But the promise of Proposition M is being undermined by city law enforcement, which is targeting some of the very cannabis businesses that backed the proposition, according to some M supporters. The Southern California Coalition, which helped spearhead M and which represents many of the city's quasi-legal and gray-market cannabis concerns, has formally asked the City Council to halt enforcement against rogue shops until M is in place.

The SCC says some of its members feel as if they got into bed with the city on Proposition M — it was put on the ballot by the council at the behest of City Council president Herb Wesson — only to be betrayed by the threat of closure and court action. "What we did on Proposition M was a partnership — building trust to solve a very complex problem," the group's executive director, Adam Spiker, says. "We're asking for the city to halt enforcement, under civil action," he says. "If operators are breaking criminal law, like selling to children, they deserve to be punished. But a lot of the enforcement is shoot first, aim later."

The organization recently sent a letter to Mayor Eric Garcetti and to the City Council asking that authorities refrain "from taking any further action against any segments of the cannabis industry until Proposition M’s comprehensive regulatory system can be implemented."

"Halting enforcement actions ... against operators, cultivators, delivery companies, product manufacturers and others who fully intend to comply with Proposition M and its regulations — soon to be implemented and enacted — can be done by creating a bare-bones temporary registration program in the interim period before Proposition M regulations are implemented," according to the letter.

Spiker says the city should identify businesses that could qualify for licenses and offer temporary or priority status for forthcoming licensing. Otherwise, he argues, marijuana firms operating in good faith could be taken out of the game before they even get a shot at becoming legal under Proposition M. "We were seeing members of the Southern California Coalition being threatened with closure," he says.

"The intent of the letter was to make it a priority issue," Spiker continues. "We need to identify dispensaries that are going into the process in September for a shot at getting licenses but also start granting them limited immunity. ... They can be targeted any day. Let's protect them while the city sets up the framework to properly vet them."

As things stand, the city operates under 2013's voter-approved pot law, Proposition D, which gives limited legal immunity to about 135 dispensaries, outlaws delivery services and offers no cover for cultivators or manufacturers. M will change all that by creating a state-mandated licensing system by Jan. 1 for weed businesses of all types.

The United Cannabis Business Alliance, which represents a slice of those 135 limited legal immunity shops, and which supported M, isn't so enthusiastic about giving its gray-market competition a respite from law enforcement.

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"We would never support any ill-conceived policy idea that asks the city to forgo its responsibility to enforce its laws to ensure the fire and life safety of our patients and the public," president Jerred Kiloh said via email. "UCBA is instead focused on the implementation of Proposition M, Proposition 64 and [state medical marijuana regulations]. Our working group with the city of Los Angeles will produce zoning and operational regulations that ensure illegal dispensaries are closed immediately, respond to neighborhood concerns of illegal activity and provide an equal opportunity for people from all parts of our city to start new legal businesses on a level playing field."

For now, it's fair game to crack down on any pot businesses not included under the limited legal immunity clause of Proposition D. According to the office of City Attorney Mike Feuer, that's not going to change.

"Proposition M affirms the City Council’s power to revise and/or replace Proposition D with new local legislation relating to cannabis and medical cannabis after conducting public hearings," Feuer spokesman Rob Wilcox said via email. "In the meantime, Proposition D remains in place and we will continue enforcing it."

This story was updated and edited at 11:54 p.m. Tuesday, April 4, 2017, to add a quote from the United Cannabis Business Alliance.


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