“Surge Strategy” on Hold: LA Considers Ending the “Whack-a-Mole” Game Against Marijuana Dispensaries

On April 17, the Los Angeles County Counsel presented to the Board of Supervisors a report addressing the dozens of illegal dispensaries in unincorporated Los Angeles County. The report relayed the Medical Marijuana Dispensary Enforcement Team’s (“MMDET”) recommended approach: a “surge strategy” aiming to close all such dispensaries.

On April 19, however, the Board of Supervisors opted not to fund the “surge strategy”. Instead, the Board only accepted the report, effectively thwarting, for now at least, immediate efforts at an aggressive crackdown.

Illegal dispensaries in Los Angeles County have been a thorny issue for a while. The County has banned dispensaries since 2011, but high demand has driven proliferation of dispensaries anyway, prompting the County to create MMDET in March 2016 to improve enforcement. Those efforts, however, have resembled a game of “whack-a-mole”: more than a year later, MMDET has closed 31 dispensaries, but 75 continue to operate in the County.

The Board’s decision not to fund the “surge strategy” suggests that it is serious about regulating, rather than banning, medical dispensaries. For example, County Supervisor Hilda Solis, whose district contains 63 of the 75 illegal shops, acknowledges that illegal dispensaries are a problem but also supports regulation as the right way to protect communities:

“The reality is, marijuana is legal and I support regulation and a regulatory structure. Come January 2018, we need to make sure dispensaries are up to code and do not pose a public health threat to both consumers and communities.”

Next month, the Board is expected to consider an ordinance for regulating medical dispensaries.

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