NEIGHBORHOOD POLITICS-The Department of Cannabis Regulation (DCR) is responsible for administering the commercial cannabis licensing and regulatory program established by the LA City Council under the authority granted by the passage of Measure M by over 80% of the voters in March of 2017.
Specifically, the DCR processes all applications for commercial cannabis licenses in Los Angeles, makes licensing decisions or licensing recommendations to the Cannabis Regulation Commission, and regulates the operations of licensed commercial cannabis businesses in the City.
The DCR had 32 employees this last fiscal year with a focus on licensing and the social equity aspects of its mission. It also has to coordinate with three State agencies: Consumer Affairs – Cannabis Control, Department of Public Health, and Department of Food and Agriculture.
Since it has limited staffing, the DCR has to rely on other City entities for inspections and oversight of cannabis operations.
Enforcement is critical to protect both the financial interest of the City which needs the industry’s taxes to supplement its General Fund, and City stakeholders who have been served up a brand new set of issues impacting their quality of life.
The LAPD charges overtime for this enforcement work, meaning the City is paying 50% more for those services than it should.
Which means that the $10 million the City budgeted for the LAPD to handle enforcement issues would go 50% further if these services were performed as part of their normal duties.
And with the cuts to LAPD overtime in the current budget, funding for cannabis enforcement is effectively wiped out.
Which is a false economy. Aggressive enforcement to remove the illegal operations would significantly increase the City’s income. More importantly, since illegal operators cannot purchase legally tested product, it would protect consumers from goods cut with potentially toxic extenders.
The DCR would like to be directly funded for all aspects of cannabis control. This would allow it to hire its own enforcement unit including tactical gear and weaponry equivalent to what LAPD has, and SWAT level teams.
Instead, this writer recommends they be assigned a trained and dedicated LAPD unit working on straight time and with experience in the types of procedures needed to shut down offenders and provide necessary protection for the licensed pot shops. This would achieve the same goals without creating another militarized force in a city already on edge from the Black Lives Matter protests.
The DCR also depends on the Fire Department, Building and Safety, the LADWP and others to ensure that the entire supply chain of the cannabis industry operate legally and safely.
As a recent addition to the City family and as a department working outside their purviews, the DCR receives less priority and is often charged premium rates for these services. To counter this, the DCR should work with these other departments to establish intra-departmental teams to educate all involved on the need for timely responses that benefit all parties.
The more nuanced approach
Putting the drama of SWAT raids aside, the DCR finds that results happen more quickly when employees are given civil fines at most; invoking criminal charges for owners when appropriate. Targeting the property owner/landlord can be far more effective because that strikes at the property’s ability to make money in the future.
Another proven approach has been to remove utility services; without power and water illegal operations can’t operate.
Public pressure is also key. The DCR currently has a complaint portal which it needs to expand.
As well as submitting complaints, anyone should be able to determine if a specific store is licensed (i.e. of benefit to the City tax base or potentially a criminal enterprise), obtain safety and testing grades for every store, and find health and safety materials. These should all be made available on the My311 app as well.
In the meantime, the State of California’s Bureau of Cannabis Control has launched a statewide public information program encouraging consumers to only purchase cannabis from licensed businesses and warning unlicensed businesses to become licensed.
Consumers can verify the legal status of a cannabis business by visiting the Bureau’s Online License Search www.CApotcheck.com.
The DCR has to develop a more effective way to work with other departments in order to fulfill its mission. This includes expanding existing relationships, educating those involved of the benefit of timely enforcement, and creating their own communications team and procedures for operating efficaciously with the various agencies and departments with which the DCR interacts.
The number of licenses needs to be doubled at a minimum to increase the revenue base and have a more realistic number of stores relative to existing demand.
Requests and complaints relating to cannabis issues should be funneled through the DCR to maximize results and minimize delays. It will then be in their hands to efficiently relay priorities to the appropriate departments and track outcomes.
And above all else, in order to keep the taxes rolling into the City coffers so it can maintain services and keep its constituents happy, Los Angeles would be smart to step up funding for uncompromising enforcement.
The foregoing was drawn in part from a meeting of the Budget Advocates with key members of the Department of Cannabis Regulation on October 28, 2019.
(Liz Amsden is a member of the Budget Advocates, an elected, all volunteer, independent advisory body charged with making constructive recommendations to the Mayor and the City Council regarding the Budget, and to City Departments on ways to improve their operations, and with obtaining input, updating and educating all Angelenos on the City’s fiscal management.) Photo: Eric Engman / AP. Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.