Although marijuana is legal for sale in California, hundreds of illegal shops are operating in Los Angeles, and a City Council committee is set to consider new actions to shut them down Friday, including having them barricaded or padlocked, a series of escalating fines for their employees, and having their utility service shut off.

Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer announced last month that his office, in coordination with the Los Angeles Police Department, has filed 120 criminal cases against 515 defendants associated with 105 illegal commercial cannabis locations across the city since January.

Closing down illegal pot shops has proven to be a challenge for the city, as it often involves an undercover police operation and other significant law enforcement resources. There are 169 cannabis-related business currently operating legally in the city, according to the Department of Cannabis Regulation, but LAPD Chief Michel Moore said last month that there are hundreds believed to be operating illegally.

Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson — who has frequently talked about the negative impact the war on drugs has had on minority communities and has advocated for a special cannabis sales tax to support neighborhoods affected by it — introduced two of the motions under consideration by the Rules, Elections and Intergovernmental Relations Committee, and wrote in one of them that a significant number of the people charged by Feuer’s office are employees of the businesses, not the owners. The motion says that property and business owners should bear the majority of the responsibility for illegal cannabis operations, and “not the people who work for them.”

Harris-Dawson says the ability to criminally charge employees should still be an option, but also proposes using the city’s Administrative Citation Enforcement Program to discourage repeat offenses by creating escalating fines based on the number of times an individual has been cited.

The ACE program was approved by the City Council in 2014 and is meant to give police officers and Department of Animal Service officers a middle option for nuisance infractions and other quality-of-life concerns between issuing a warning and criminally citing an offender, because officers are often hesitant to take action that could trigger a misdemeanor citation for certain low-level offenses such as a loud party, having a dog off a leash or drinking in public. ACE citations are not handled through the criminal courts but administratively through the city’s ACE program. Fines can escalate up to $1,000 for a third offense under the ACE program.

A second Harris-Dawson motion would have the Los Angeles Municipal Code allows the Department of Building and Safety vacate and secure properties that fail to comply with administrative nuisance abatement decisions made by the Planning Commission, and says the city should establish a similar procedure for closing and securing illegal cannabis businesses that have been ordered to shut down, including barricading, padlocking, or fencing them.

Last month, Councilwomen Nury Martinez and Monica Rodriguez introduced a motion to have the Water and Power and Cannabis Regulation departments report on the viability of implementing an ordinance that allows the city to disconnect or shut off utility service to unlicensed businesses.

“Despite efforts to effectively regulate cannabis sales, there is growing concern over the illegal sale of cannabis by unlicensed businesses. The illegal sale of cannabis can impact communities and effect the operations of properly licensed businesses,” the motion says.

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