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L.A. launches crackdown on unlicensed marijuana businesses; more than 500 people are charged

L.A. launches crackdown on unlicensed marijuana businesses; more than 500 people are charged
L.A. County sheriff's deputies dump marijuana into an evidence bag during a raid of a dispensary in Compton. More than 500 people have been charged in a crackdown of illegal marijuana activity in Los Angeles, the city attorney's office said. (Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)

A police crackdown on local unlicensed marijuana businesses has ended with misdemeanor charges against more than 500 people in Los Angeles, the city attorney’s office said.

In 120 criminal cases filed since May, City Atty. Mike Feuer has charged 515 people in connection with 105 illegal marijuana businesses, grow sites, extraction labs and delivery companies located throughout the city, his office announced Friday.

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All of the defendants were charged with unlicensed commercial cannabis activity within the city, which carries a potential sentence of six months in jail and $1,000 in fines. Local judges have been hearing the cases since May with arraignments scheduled through the end of October, Feuer’s office said.

Though the number of defendants is staggering and will make a dent in unlicensed operations in the city, the larger aim of the crackdown is to try to level the playing field for the marijuana businesses that are following the rules, Feuer said.

“If they’re going to go through this process, it just cannot be the case that others that flout the rules are allowed to function,” Feuer said. “It’s bad for those who buy from them, it’s bad for the communities in which they’re located and, again, it threatens to undermine the viability of a system that’s predicated on lawful licensing.”

As of Thursday, there were 165 approved cannabis storefronts and delivery businesses operating in Los Angeles, but many more without licenses are also open in Los Angeles. The crackdown reached all corners of the city, from South L.A. and Boyle Heights to communities in the San Fernando Valley and the Westside, officials said.

“It’s important that every element of the new recreational marijuana regime in our state be implemented in a way the voters anticipated in the first place,” Feuer said.

Some of the unlicensed storefronts were near schools or didn’t follow city regulations regarding security, among other things, Feuer said. Without proper permitting, there is no way for customers to know that the marijuana they’re buying is safe from toxins or other contaminants it’s exposed to when it’s grown, he added.

“Today, we are letting our residents and those who want to flout our laws know that the city is not going to stand idly by, while the safety of our communities are at risk,” Los Angeles City Councilwoman Nury Martinez said in a statement.

Of the 515 defendants Feuer’s office has charged, 21 have so far pleaded guilty or no contest to misdemeanors or infractions, one defendant was placed in a diversionary program, 11 cases were dismissed and 10 defendants are wanted on bench warrants. The remaining 472 cases are pending, city officials said.

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