The city of Los Angeles is taking a new approach to shutting down illicit cannabis dispensaries—sue them for selling contaminated products.
City officials claim that the illegal cannabis dispensary Kush Club 20 has been selling marijuana that is contaminated with a fungicide that is not approved for human consumption. Now, the city is suing the dispensary. If LA wins the lawsuit, not only would Kush Club be forced to close down, but they would also have to pay the city $20,000 for each day they sold the tainted weed. Kush Club's total fine would amount to $7.5 million.
It's a new approach to dealing with LA's illicit cannabis dispensary problem. While there are 181 cannabis retailers officially licensed by the city, there are hundreds of others operating outside of the law. Local law enforcement has so far been unable to keep illicit pot shops at bay. As soon as one illegal store is closed another pops up in its place.
City lawmakers are hopeful that their new strategy will have more success in deterring people from opening illicit pot shops.
"We are sharpening our tools and we're laying the basis to deliver what the voters expect from us...a legal regulated market with appropriate built-in controls," City Councilman Marquise Harris-Dawson told the LA Times.
However, not everyone sees this as an effective plan for curbing the black market. As Asst. City. Attorney David Michaelson explained, fighting a case like this is "time intensive" and there is no guarantee that the dispensary owners will actually be able to pay the fee anyway. That's why they haven't tried to extract financial penalties from black market dispensary owners in the past.
If the city does win the court case though, a legal precedent would be set that could deter other people from entering the illegal market.
The legal cannabis market in California hasn't taken off the way many people expected it would. Strict testing regulations and high tax rates have helped keep the price of legal weed far above that of what can be found on the black market. Additionally, there are still a lot of cities and towns that have banned the sale of legal weed.
So while increasing the penalties faced by illicit dispensary owners may help slow the black market, reducing prices of legal cannabis and increasing consumer access will also need to happen if the legal market truly wants to succeed.