May 29

Black market cannabis shops thrive in L.A. even as city cracks down

LA Times

To identify potential scofflaws, The Times compared all storefronts on Weedmaps with a list of businesses granted temporary approval to operate by Los Angeles’ Department of Cannabis Regulation. Only 182 marijuana dispensaries have permission to sell weed in the city, records show.

The review, conducted earlier this month, found 365 dispensaries advertised on Weedmaps inside city limits. Of those, more than 220 — 60% of the total — were operating at addresses not on the city’s list of legal retailers.

The numbers provide only an estimate of the problem.

Listings on Weedmaps change frequently. Some shops targeted by city enforcement efforts may have shut down since The Times last reviewed the website’s listings. But shops that are closed often open under new names, and not every illegal dispensary in the city advertises on the website.

Unregistered dispensaries were running in nearly every corner of Los Angeles, with the highest concentrations downtown and south of the 10 Freeway, The Times analysis found. Twelve can be found on a stretch of Florence Avenue between Crenshaw and Avalon boulevards.

By mapping the legal and illegal storefronts in the city, The Times found large swaths of downtown and South L.A. are dominated by unlisted dispensaries. Legitimate shops, which can only sell cannabis at locations that meet specific requirements, such as being a certain distance away from a school, are more prevalent in the San Fernando Valley.

Exact statistics on the issue are difficult to find. A representative for the state Bureau of Cannabis Control said the agency did not have readily available data about illegal operators in California, and Los Angeles officials have never made public an exact number of illegal storefronts. The L.A. Police Department, however, has estimated the number of unregistered shops to be “less than 300.”

Marijuana advocates say Los Angeles’ struggle to curtail illegal activity is more severe than other cities in California, a result of years of allowing marijuana businesses to operate in a quasi-legal status in which they received limited immunity from prosecution.

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