California has had legal medical marijuana for over 20 years now, but in those two decades the state has neglected to add any concrete regulations to the industry - until now. With with brand new medical marijuana regulations and recreational sales both jumping off in 2018, change is finally coming to weed’s wild west. In Los Angeles County, though, the new regulations are leading local officials to push for a shutdown of the county’s currently operating unregulated pot shops.
According to L.A. Weekly, dispensaries have been banned in the unincorporated areas of L.A. County since 2011, but that hasn’t stopped unregulated retailers from setting up shop throughout the Southland. In East L.A. alone there are more than a dozen unregulated dispensaries.
With recreational legalization and medical regulations on the horizon, The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has been trying to fund a sweeping shutdown of those pot shops, but to no avail.
So instead of raiding the illegal dispensaries, county sheriffs have instead just started showing up at the unregulated stores, asking for paperwork and generally making customers and employees feel uncomfortable.
"We did not 'raid,'" sheriff's spokeswoman Nicole Nishida told L.A. Weekly. "We are checking and reviewing permits at various medical marijuana dispensaries in the unincorporated Los Angeles County area. There were a few arrests for various charges unrelated to the medical marijuana dispensary investigations."
For the owners of L.A. County’s unregulated shops, the police presence and proposed crackdown sends a clear message - that they’re not wanted, regulations or not. And if the county is successful in shutting down East L.A.’s current pot shops, one owner says that it’s likely they won’t return.
"If they wipe out this community, where's the chance for good operators to come back into a regulated market?" Jonatan Cvetko, co-founder of the Angeles Emeralds dispensary, said.
Cvetko told the L.A. Weekly in April that many of the targeted shops welcome regulations and still hope to become upstanding members of the cannabis industry.
For county Supervisor Hilda Solis though, the unregulated pot shops have been a burden that she’d rather eradicate than work with and fix.
"I have heard from many of my constituents that unregulated dispensaries keep popping up in their own backyards and near schools," she said. "I understand that the voters have spoken when it comes to legalizing marijuana, but what is happening right now in East Los Angeles is out of control. My constituents are concerned and that’s why I called for today’s report back on enforcement. The reality is, marijuana is legal and I support regulation and a regulatory structure. Come January 2018, we need to make sure dispensaries are up to code and do not pose a public health threat to both consumers and communities.”
So while this week’s police activity didn’t end in dispensary shutdowns, the threat still looms. There are a lot of wrinkles that need to be ironed out before 2018’s regulatory shift brings California into the future of cannabis legalization, but in East L.A. that might spell doom for existing retailers.