As California Raids Illicit Pot Shops, Legal Industry Struggles With Safety Testing
In Los Angeles alone, more than 500 people have been charged in connection to illegal marijuana dispensaries, while legal ganjapreneurs face their own problems.
Published on September 11, 2018

Photo via Chris Yarzab

More than eight months into the Golden State’s experiment with adult-use cannabis legalization, California’s police, cannabis regulators, and operators of marijuana businesses are all still working to shut down the state’s persistent black market while offering safe, transparent, and legal products to customers.

According to the Los Angeles Times, L.A. police are ramping up enforcement efforts on unlicensed dispensaries throughout the Southland, with an initial round-up resulting in more than 500 misdemeanor arrests stemming from over 100 unpermitted pot shops. After the shuttering of an unlicensed canna-business in Costa Mesa late last month, the Los Angeles raids signal an increased focus on disrupting the state’s blatant black market.

“Today, we are letting our residents and those who want to flout our laws know that the city is not going to stand idly by, while the safety of our communities are at risk,” Los Angeles City Councilwoman Nury Martinez said in a statement on Friday.

In July, California moved to end the six-month grace period that had allowed cannabis businesses to operate under the state’s previous (and loosely regulated) medical marijuana program, now requiring every bud sold to travel through legal channels and undergo mandatory safety testing. Because unlicensed pot shops aren’t incentivized to test their pot, and can charge lower prices since they don’t pay tax, California authorities say that they will pursue criminal charges against illegal dispensaries not only to protect customers, but to protect the viability of the state’s growing legal market.

“If [licensed operators] are going to go through this process, it just cannot be the case that others that flout the rules are allowed to function,” Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer told the Times. “It’s bad for those who buy from them, it’s bad for the communities in which they’re located and, again, it threatens to undermine the viability of a system that’s predicated on lawful licensing.”

But when it comes to those fully licensed cultivators and processors, a state license doesn’t automatically assure safe growing practices, or clarity for consumers. According to a new report from the Associated Press, over the first two months of California’s mandated lab testing for legal weed, 20% of more than 10,000 cannabis samples were rejected for either false labeling or contamination

More than 1,000 of those failures have been ascribed to inaccurate labeling of cannabinoid content, with products testing more than 10% off from advertised THC or CBD levels. About 400 of the nearly 2,000 rejected samples were due to unsafe levels of residual pesticides, and 114 were credited to the presence of mold and other bacteria. 

By category, the testing failures occurred most commonly in waxes, edibles, tinctures and other concentrated products. On the flower side of things, some 90% of sampled buds passed on to licensed stores with flying colors.

"Mandatory statewide testing is a new thing and it's going to take some time for everything to run smoothly, but on the whole we're pleased with how things are progressing," California Bureau of Cannabis Control spokesman Alex Traverso told the AP.

No one ever said that bringing the world’s largest marijuana market out of the shadows would be easy, but as California cannabis businesses and state authorities come to grips with legal weed’s new realities, a sharp focus on consumer transparency in safety and labeling is a necessary step to shifting legal cannabis into the mainstream, and eventually, to gaining acceptance as a legal product nationwide.

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Zach Harris
Zach Harris is a writer based in Philadelphia whose work has appeared on Noisey, First We Feast, and Jenkem Magazine. You can find him on Twitter @10000youtubes complaining about NBA referees.
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