Since January 1, California’s Bureau of Cannabis Control and law enforcement agencies have served 19 search warrants and seized more than 2,500 pounds of cannabis and $219,874 from unlicensed shops, the Los Angeles Times reports. Combined with last year’s totals, the state has confiscated about $30 million in illegal cannabis since licensing began in 2018.
The busts include a $2.7 million haul at two unlicensed shops in Costa Mesa, a raid at an unlicensed grow in Trinity County which led to the seizure of 801 pounds of processed cannabis, 12,548 plants, $435,875 in cash, and 15 firearms. Both of those enforcement actions occurred last month.
Lindsay Robinson, executive director of the California Cannabis Industry Association, told the Times that the number of actions by the Bureau is “severely inadequate.” She explained that there should be hundreds of enforcement actions on illegally operating shops but noted that the state “has always struggled with enforcement of the illicit industry.”
Lori Ajax, chief of the Bureau of Cannabis Control, said the agency’s work has been “tremendous … in accomplishing our mandate to develop a comprehensive regulatory system under challenging conditions.”
Those ‘challenging conditions’ likely refer to a recent audit that found the agency is understaffed and strapped for cash. The state Finance Department report released last week found that about two-thirds of the bureau’s staff positions are unfilled – including just 15 of 68 enforcement units – and the agency has collected just $2 million out of an expected $200 million in application and license fees.
“We recognize the importance of enforcement for a strong regulated cannabis industry and continue to partner with local jurisdictions to address issues related to unlicensed cannabis businesses.” – Ajax, to the Times
Earlier this month, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) authorized fines of up to $30,000 per day against unlicensed cannabis cultivators, distributors, and sellers but did not include in his state budget proposal $10 million the California Cannabis Industry Association had requested for enforcement on illegal operators.
Jesse Melgar, a spokesman for the governor, told the Times that the budget does include “meaningful financial penalties for unregulated activity” that will help aid regulators with enforcement.
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