A Level Field for Marijuana Sales

DTLA—In Downtown Los Angeles, one doesn’t have to go far to find a shop selling recreational marijuana. There are dozens if not scores of outlets, most designated by the telltale green cross.

However, as Los Angeles Downtown News recently reported, only about 10 of the Central City locations have received all necessary permits and approvals from the state and the city Department of Cannabis Affairs. The others are operating illegally.

Competition and Confusion on the Cannabis Front

Some people may shrug this off, arguing that pot is legal in California, so what’s the big deal? But whatever your views on the drug, this situation poses a problem: Those businesses trying to play by the rules can be undercut on price and undermined by the many competitors, and most consumers will have no idea which outlets have acquired all necessary permits. To rectify this, Los Angeles needs a speedier approvals process and enforcement policies with teeth.

We know this isn’t easy. It requires Mayor Eric Garcetti to dedicate more funds so there can be additional staff at the Department of Cannabis Affairs. It requires money flowing to the LAPD so that entities such as the Central Gang and Narcotics Unit can keep up with the illicit businesses. It requires City Attorney Mike Feuer’s office to focus more personnel on this sector.

Some progress has been made. Feuer’s office last week said that since May 2018, it has filed 217 cases with 840 defendants and verified the closure of 113 locations. It also last week sued an operator that lacked permits and was allegedly using banned pesticides in its marijuana. The lawsuit additionally targeted the property owner and real estate brokers who helped ink its lease.

That crackdown could send a message, but then again, anyone in the field knows that this is a whack-a-mole industry, and that after illegal businesses are raided or shut down, they frequently pop back up in the same or a nearby location. The leader of a local cannabis trade group told Downtown News that the operators of unlicensed shops know that penalties are rarely severe, and they view fines as just a cost of doing business.

For Downtown Pot Shops, Legalizing It Isn't So Simple

Although recreational marijuana use is still prohibited by the federal government, in California it looks like it is here to stay. State and city voters both passed measures allowing for sales and creating steps to regulate the industry.

One problem is that ramp-up across California has been slow, and the anticipated tax windfall for local and state government has been lower than expected. It’s likely that many business owners who want to follow the law have been stymied by a lagging bureaucracy.

Still, red tape exists in every sector from restaurant approvals to construction, and businesses in many fields must adhere to strict regulatory standards; there are consequences if they don’t. Things should be no different when it comes to cannabis.

Local government has some tools at its disposal that it has yet to fully wield. In addition to the lawsuit by Feuer’s office, the City Council recently approved a motion that could shut off water and power to buildings that have unlicensed cannabis businesses.

A level playing with high regulatory standards ultimately benefits businesses and consumers. We need to see that in Downtown and beyond.

Copyright 2019 Los Angeles Downtown News