California Cannabis Industry Group Calls For Crackdown On Illegal Pot Shops As Support For Legalization Peaks

'There’s a high probability the ... cannabis products in these shops are contaminated,' writes the Southern California Coalition.

jars of cannabis at a cannabis dispensary
My 420 Tours / Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0 Cropped, resized.)

'There’s a high probability the ... cannabis products in these shops are contaminated,' writes the Southern California Coalition.

The legal cannabis industry in California is calling on law enforcement officials to crack down on illegal pot shops that they claim are pushing them out of business, as well as possibly selling tainted products to customers, The Associated Press reports.

California is one of 11 states plus the District of Columbia to have legalized recreational marijuana, and cannabis users can purchase their pot, legally and openly, at any of hundreds of dispensaries across the state. Of course, marijuana remains illegal at the federal level, and thus is technically illegal in all 50 states, local legalization efforts notwithstanding. However, the federal government has taken a “hands-off” approach to state pot laws since the Obama administration, a policy that the Trump administration has continued and appears poised to continue into the future.

The problem, however, is this: those legal dispensaries in California have to go through a lengthy and expensive licensing process. They also have to sell only goods that have been tested for potency, contaminants, and so on. Customers pay a considerable tax on cannabis-based goods, too.

Unscrupulous entrepreneurs, and the landlords who rent to them, can skirt all of that simply by opening up an unlicensed shop and hoping the authorities don’t notice. That means that the illegal pot industry competes with the legal one, without having to pay the same fees and taxes that the legal businesses do.

And, they may be selling tainted or otherwise bad pot to the customers.

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The Southern California Coalition, a cannabis industry trade group, wrote an open letter to the City of Los Angeles, asking them to come down hard on illegal pot shops. What’s more, the group suggested a couple of strategies to make those efforts have even more lasting impact.

The group recommends, for example, that employees of illegal pot shops be ticketed whenever the police raid an illegal shop. Knowing that they’ll be fined may discourage people from working in dispensaries without first checking to see if they’re legitimate. Further, the group recommends going after the buildings themselves, sending building inspectors on police raids of illegal pot shops so the structures can be shut down. And to put the squeeze on landlords who rent to illegal pot shops, the group recommends putting tax liens on those buildings.

Writing in Cannabis Now, legal pot shop worker Rachelle Gordon wrote about how customers can usually tell legal dispensaries from illegal ones. If the “vibe” in general is sketchy, she said (windows closed, for example, or a security guard who doesn’t look closely at I.D.), trust your instincts. If the packaging isn’t childproof and tamper-resistant, that’s another sign that you’re at an illegal pot shop. And of course, if the weed is terrible, you likely got it from an illegal shop, she says.