marijuana shops
The Los Angeles City Council voted Friday, March 8, 2019, to authorize the LADWP to shut off the utilities at illegal marijuana businesses. Mayor Eric Garcetti must sign the ordinance in order for it to become official. (AP file photo/Richard Vogel) 

To crackdown on the hundreds of illegal cannabis businesses operating in the city, the Los Angeles City Council on Friday authorized the Department of Water and Power to shut off utilities at marijuana dispensaries, cultivators and other establishments.

The ordinance, which was approved 12-0, is meant to accelerate the city’s effort to shutter illicit cannabis operations by cutting their water and electricity, making it effectively impossible to do business.

“These are the types of efforts that we can deploy — being resourceful looking at our existing city resources — to help combat the challenges we have before us … and combat illegal operators in the city of Los Angeles,” said Councilwoman Monica Rodriguez before the vote.

In September, Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore said that hundreds of unlicensed marijuana businesses are thought to be up-and-running in the city. Commercial cannabis establishments need permits from both the city and state to operate legally in Los Angeles.

Neighborhoods with an abundance of illegal shops or grow houses complain the sites often attract crime and make residents feel unsafe. In addition, legal marijuana businesses say they are being undercut by black market stores that flout taxes and ignore packaging and testing regulations.

Before turning off utilities at an illegal site, LADWP must receive written confirmation from the Los Angeles Police Department or another city agency that commercial cannabis activity is going on at the location as well as written confirmation from the city’s Department of Cannabis Regulation that the business lacks a license, according to the ordinance.

At the council meeting, Councilman Greig Smith requested that the Department of Building and Safety be given notice when LADWP targets an illicit establishment.

“After we turn water and power off, these operators will bring in generators to keep operating,” Smith said. “The building and safety department needs to be following in line immediately with LADWP’s actions.”

Los Angeles is not the first Southern California city to take this approach to marijuana enforcement. Pasadena and Anaheim have each passed similar ordinances aimed at unlicensed medical dispensaries. In 2014, Anaheim shut down more than 20 sites by cutting their water and electricity.

On Friday, the council also moved forward with a plan to eventually issue 100 licenses to marijuana retailers that qualify under the Department of Cannabis Regulation’s social equity program. The initiative prioritizes applicants from communities that have historically been affected by the “war on drugs.”

Critics of the program say it is underfunded and has been slow to initiate the licensing process. Currently, only retail stores that were registered as medical dispensaries before the city legalized commercial pot sales last year are eligible for licenses. The Department of Cannabis Regulation has so far issued approvals to 178 of these shops.

Evelyn Scott, a social equity applicant for a retail license, implored the council to begin the next permitting phase.

“I’ve had a location since January of 2018,” Scott said. “I’ve been paying for this location, and it has caused so much hardship for me and my family.”


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