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LA Considers Padlocks and Utility Shut-Offs in Illegal Pot Shop Fight

The Los Angeles City Council moved forward Tuesday with developing new tactics aimed at closing down illegal marijuana businesses, including having them barricaded or padlocked, imposing escalating fines on their employees and shutting off utilities.

Although marijuana has been legal for recreational sales in California since Jan. 1, a license from both the state and city of Los Angeles is required to legally operate a dispensary in L.A., and hundreds of illegal businesses are believed to be operating in breach of the regulations.

City Attorney Mike Feuer announced last month that since January, his office, in coordination with the Los Angeles Police Department, has filed 120 criminal cases against 515 defendants associated with 105 illegal commercial cannabis locations across the city.

Closing down illegal pot shops has proven to be a challenge for the city; it often involves an undercover police operation and the use of other significant law enforcement resources.

There are 169 cannabis-related business currently operating legally in the city, according to the Department of Cannabis Regulation, but Los Angeles police Chief Michel Moore said last month that there are hundreds believed to be operating illegally.

Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson, who introduced two of the motions that were approved, noted in one of them that a significant number of the people charged by Feuer’s office are employees of the businesses, not the owners.

The motion says that property and business owners should bear most of the responsibility for illegal cannabis operations and “not the people who work for them.” Harris-Dawson has frequently talked about the negative impact the war on drugs has had on minority communities and has advocated a special cannabis sales tax to support neighborhoods affected by it.

Harris-Dawson’s motion says the ability to criminally charge employees should still be an option, but it also proposes using the city’s Administrative Citation Enforcement Program to discourage repeat offenses by creating escalating fines based on the number of times an individual has been cited.

The ACE program was approved by the City Council in 2014. It’s meant to give police and Department of Animal Service officers a middle option for nuisance infractions and other quality-of-life concerns between issuing a warning and criminally citing an offender, as officers are often hesitant to take action that could trigger a misdemeanor citation for certain low-level offenses such as a loud party, having a dog off a leash or drinking in public.

ACE citations are not handled through the criminal courts but administratively through the city’s ACE program. Fines can escalate up to $1,000 for a third offense under the ACE program.

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Published: October 30, 2018

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