Nobody Knows How Many Pot Shops Exist in L.A.

Nobody Knows How Many Pot Shops Exist in L.A.
File photo by Timothy Norris/L.A. Weekly

L.A. City Attorney Mike Feuer yesterday announced that 503 marijuana dispensaries have been closed since he took office 20 months ago. That appears to us to be a healthy slice of the city's cannabis retail scene.

But the exact size of that slice is hard to determine because nobody seems to know exactly how many pot shops exist in this town.

Complicating matters is the number of shops that have registered to pay the city's dispensary tax: 1,122, according to the city Office of Finance.

Strangely, that's an even larger number than the 945 pot tax certificates the city said were on file just late last year. How could the number of shops registered with the city have grown when the City Attorney is shutting them down by the hundreds?

It's possible.

Rob Wilcox, a spokesman for the City Attorney's office, notes that anyone can walk in off the street and register to pay the city's pot retail tax. (But who would do that?) You don't have to have a store, and it doesn't have to be open, for there to be a city tax certificate in your business' name.

And, he says, the list of 1,122 surely includes cannabis stores that have shut down but have yet to close their accounts with the city. Some shuttered retailers still owe tax, so the certificates remain on file, Wilcox said.

"The active [tax certificates] number includes closed dispensaries," Wilcox said. "If you have a balance you owe, you're still on the books."

Indeed. Antoinette Christovale, general manager of the Office of Finance, says, "It is very likely that some of them may no longer be in business and have not advised our office."

Some, Wilcox said, didn't bother to inform the city that they have closed. "A lot of them are running away from the law," he said.

Still, one would think that the number would be shrinking a little more.

In December a pair of L.A. City Council members proposed banning illegal shops from registering to pay municipal taxes. That would be one way to get clearer numbers.

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In any case, there's even more to this numbers game. The City Attorney's office says that we should really be looking at the number of shops that filed to renew their tax certificates.

That number, says the Office of Finance, is 415. If you add 503 to that, you get 918, which sounds like a reasonable starting point for Feuer's effort to close those dispensaries that are not immune from our voter-approved initiative, Proposition D.

That 2013 proposition says that only 135 dispensaries, those on City Hall's radar before a 2007 moratorium, will be allowed to remain.

City Attorney's spokesman Frank Mateljan says that number today has actually been whittled down to 125 compliant survivors.

Nobody Knows How Many Pot Shops Exist in L.A.
File photo by Timothy Norris/L.A. Weekly

If indeed there are only 415 dispensaries actively selling weed in L..A., then the City Attorney's office has only a few hundred more to close. It's more than halfway there.

One final note: The UCLA Medical Marijuana Research Team conducted its own L.A. weed store count for 2014. The number, revealed just last month, was ... 418. That's strikingly close to the tax renewal number.

So, do we have a consensus on the number of pot shops in the city of Los Angeles? Probably not. But you have the data. You can make up your own mind.

Send feedback and tips to the author. Follow Dennis Romero on Twitter at @dennisjromero. Follow L.A. Weekly News on Twitter at @laweeklynews.

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