The crackdown promised by new medical marijuana regulations in Los Angeles has officially begun.
As of mid-October, the city announced it will be prosecuting 38 dispensaries that have flouted its order to close shop. Officials estimate there are nearly 800 illegal pot shops in town, while other estimates put the number closer to 1,000.
The city has sent letters to the 800 shops it’s aware of, threatening them with fines and criminal prosecution if they don’t obey the city’s new medical cannabis law and leave.
That ordinance, known as Measure D, was approved by voters in May and imposes tight new regulations on the marijuana market in L.A. The city is one of several in California trying to strike a balance between years of chaotic enforcement and the total cannabis blackouts favored by most other communities.
Indeed, almost all the surrounding municipalities, in Los Angeles and Orange counties, have passed ordinances banning all dispensaries. Earlier this year, the California Supreme Court ruled that communities throughout the state can freeze out pot shops, despite the 1996 voter initiative that legalized medicinal marijuana in the state.
The situation has made L.A. a rare bright spot for cannabis patients, even if their options are shrinking dramatically. Measure D limits the number of legal dispensaries in the city to 135, down from a peak of more than 2,000 in recent years.
Operators of shops that fail to close now that they’ve been warned will face $1,000 fines or as many as six months in jail. According to LA Weekly, about 40 stores closed voluntarily after receiving the warning.
Another 38 were informed they would be prosecuted, and the rest are in the city’s targets, a city spokeswoman told the newspaper. Where possible, those prosecutions are going after both operators and the landowners who rent to them.
The 38 dispensaries targeted for initial enforcement were chosen based on neighborhood complaints and nuisance issues, according to the newspaper.
When voters went to the polls in May, they were faced with three options. One would have imposed many of the same regulations as Measure D but no limit on dispensaries. Another, which garnered little support, would have limited pot shops but imposed no tax on them. Instead, voters chose the strictest option by wide margins and sealed the fate for hundreds of dispensaries serving patients across the city.
Measure D effectively set the clock back to 2007, when the city imposed a moratorium on new dispensaries. At the time, there were about 135 shops, and those are the ones that will be allowed to remain open.