Even though cannabis is now officially legal in California, marijuana growers and sellers are still getting busted by the police. These arrests are a side effect of the transition from the "Wild West" days of the largely-unregulated medical marijuana market to the current tightly-regulated recreational industry. Although many new cannabis startups are sticking to the current regulations, there are still a large number of unlicensed marijuana operations operating illegally throughout the state, which local and federal law enforcement are now working to shut down.
Across Northern California, acres of national forest lands have been co-opted for use as illegal cannabis grows, flooding the country with black market marijuana and poisoning local forests and wildlife with toxic pesticide residue. Earlier this week, U.S. Attorney for Eastern California McGregor Scott announced a $2.5 million plan to eradicate any illegal grow-ops occurring in his jurisdiction, in full cooperation with California Attorney General Xavier Becerra.
Meanwhile, on a local level, a number of city and county governments are also cracking down on illegal pot operations in order to help legal businesses thrive. California regulators have sent over 1,000 cease-and-desist letters to various unlicensed canna-businesses throughout the state, but local law enforcement is now stepping up to deal with any businesses that have decided to remain open in violation of the law.
In Los Angeles, City Attorney Mike Feuer announced that his office was filing 36 criminal cases against 142 people involved in running 32 unlicensed cannabis businesses across the city. The city attorney's office also plans to send cease-and-desist letters to other unlicensed businesses demanding that they shut down. Feuer said that anyone running an illegal pot business will face a $1,000 fine per violation plus up to six months in jail.
Since January, the LAPD has served 54 search warrants and arrested 160 people in connection with unlicensed pot establishments. Lt. Stacy Spell of the LAPD's Gang and Narcotics Division said that police had also seized over 6,200 pounds of black market weed, $300,000 in cash, and 29 guns in the operation. "The combination of significant amounts of cash and marijuana at these locations can make them dangerous," Feuer said at a press conference, according to the Associated Press.
Spell said that the task force was focusing on shutting down the businesses that were generating the most complaints from their surrounding communities. "We've tried to be very responsible with taxpayer money, understanding that we have limited resources and are not able to necessarily address all of the locations," Lt. Spell added.
Los Angeles City Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson told the Los Angeles Times that many of his constituents in South L.A. have been complaining for years about illegal dispensaries. "This is a problem all over the city of Los Angeles, from Venice to the West Valley, down to San Pedro," he explained.