The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors is scheduled to consider a plan Wednesday to shut down all marijuana dispensaries in unincorporated areas of L.A. That would put about 70 medical collectives in the sheriff's crosshairs, which has alarmed Los Angeles pot advocates. "We're concerned for the county to take a position that's enforcement-driven instead of providing a pathway toward licensing and regulation," says Attorney Ariel Clark, chair of the Los Angeles Cannabis Task Force.
The move could establish a clean slate for a Board of Supervisors that's also considering licensing and regulating marijuana businesses in those same areas. The board is expected to vote on a shutdown plan by the Sheriff's Department. It could carry a $25 million price tag, pot advocates say.
The board in 2011 banned all dispensaries in unincorporated areas, so the risks have been well known to marijuana business owners. Last month, the board voted to extend that ban. Supervisor Hilda Solis requested the sheriff''s shut-down report. Her office did not respond to L.A. Weekly's request for comment.
Jonatan Cvetko, co-founder of Angeles Emeralds, a group of dispensaries and advocates in unincorporated areas, says medical pot advocates want the county to think twice. He says that since some of the operators in unincorporated areas are striving to be legitimate, they should be first in line for a license, not for a sentence. "There are operators that we want to encourage to transition from the illicit to the regulated market," Cvetko says. "But if they end up in jail, who exactly are they going to invite into the county to participate in licensed marijuana business?"
The powerful, five-member board has softened its stance toward marijuana recently, particularly after its most conservative members, Republicans Don Knabe and Michael D. Antonovich, were termed out of office. Next year, state regulations will require licenses for medical pot businesses, and recreational sales are set to begin under Proposition 64. The county appears to be prepared to take advantage of potential tax windfalls from the impending green rush. Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, for one, has expressed support for moving from a ban to permitting and regulating sales.
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But the proposal to shut down all shops in unincorporated areas has cannabis advocates scratching their heads. The agenda item for Wednesday's sheriff's report calls it "a plan for closing all unlicensed medical marijuana dispensaries.”
"It seems like they have flipped on us and said they're going to go after you," Cvetko says.
The crackdown report would come a day after city of Los Angeles voters weigh in on Proposition M, which proposes to give the City Council power to legalize, tax and expand the number of marijuana businesses in town. And while medical weed might be illicit in unincorporated (noncity) areas of the county, places like the city of West Hollywood have seen success by permitting a limited number of shops. "The county has yet to create any opportunity for these types of businesses," Clark says.
Legalizing pot sales and providing clear rules is better than wiping out an industry, argues Ruben Honig, executive director of the Cannabis Task Force. "You have to be able to differentiate between the good actors and the bad actors, and that's what good regulation does," he says. "If anything, these things are out of control exactly because they don't have regulations."