Pubdate: Thu, 09 Apr 2015
Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Copyright: 2015 Los Angeles Times
Authors: Emily Alpert Reyes and Catherine Saillant


Mike Feuer Credits Crackdown With More Than 500 Closures and Says 
Momentum Is With the City.

A Los Angeles city crackdown has prompted more than 500 medical 
marijuana shops to close down in less than two years, City Atty. Mike 
Feuer is scheduled to announce Thursday.

That represents a jump from a year ago, when Feuer reported that 
about a hundred pot shops had been shuttered. The city attorney has 
also targeted other ways medical marijuana has been distributed, 
securing court injunctions against a Boyle Heights pot farmers market 
and a smartphone app used to arrange pot deliveries.

"There are a whole bunch of different vehicles that we pursued to 
close them," including civil and criminal cases and warning letters, 
Feuer said. "We've made tremendous progress."

Still, the city doesn't know how many marijuana businesses continue 
to operate, raising concerns from critics that the crackdown may 
amount to a game of whack-a-mole.

Under Proposition D, approved by voters two years ago, pot shops and 
the landlords that lease them space can be prosecuted if the 
businesses don't meet a number of requirements. Those include being 
registered under past L.A. ordinances and operating a specified 
distance from public parks, schools and other facilities.

When the restrictions were approved, city officials estimated that 
fewer than 140 medical marijuana dispensaries would be eligible to 
remain open and avoid prosecution. At the time, police officials said 
they believed roughly 700 pot shops were operating, although some 
estimates put the figure more than twice as high.

Feuer said neighborhood complaints about the city failing to tackle 
illegal shops, which he routinely heard when he was first elected two 
years ago, are now much less frequent.

"We are shutting down unlawful dispensaries at a rapidly increasing 
pace," he said. That "momentum" will make new, unlawful shops 
reluctant to open in Los Angeles, he said.

City records don't provide a definitive picture of how much progress 
has been made.

Last year, more than 450 medical marijuana shops filed tax renewals 
to report their gross receipts, according to the Office of Finance. 
The number appears to have fallen slightly this year, with 415 
businesses renewing around the March deadline. But it isn't clear if 
the tax numbers account for all shops. Hundreds more marijuana 
businesses - more than 1,100 dispensaries - are still registered on 
the books to pay business taxes, though city officials say many of 
those may have closed without telling the finance office.

Another estimate by UCLA researchers, who canvassed addresses they 
found online and through city registrations, found 418 marijuana 
businesses operating in L.A. last year - more than three times the 
number supposedly allowed. That was only a slight decrease from two 
years earlier, when a similar survey found 476 shops.

The UCLA Medical Marijuana Research team also found that marijuana 
shops have been shifting from the San Fernando Valley and East L.A. 
to South L.A. and San Pedro. Principal investigator Bridget 
Freisthler said it's unclear why. It "might be in response to 
community efforts to close some dispensaries," she said.

In Park Mesa Heights in South L.A., Ted Thomas said he's seen pot 
shops close down, and then "two more opening up right down the street."

"It's a little like a running joke," said Thomas, who has lived in 
the neighborhood for 25 years. "The city attorney and the police are 
on top of it. But apparently there is only so much they can do."

Yamileth Bolanos, president of the Greater Los Angeles Collective 
Alliance, an association of medical marijuana collectives that 
supported Proposition D, voiced similar concerns. "They're popping up 
every day," she said.

She and other critics complain that the city continues to register 
medical marijuana shops to pay business taxes, granting them tax 
certificates regardless of whether they comply with the law. City 
Councilwoman Nury Martinez has pushed to end that practice, arguing 
that the documents give the false impression that all the registered 
shops are legitimate.

Feuer says that although some shops may have moved and exact figures 
remain unknown, he believes the city is making a dent in the total number.

"It's a continuing effort," he said.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom