Arrests, Cannabis Seizures Spike as California Cracks Down on Illegal Pot Shops

The NBC4 I-Team profiled members of a state task force, including the California Department of Cannabis Control, busting shops, they say, are selling illegal cannabis products and hurting the community 

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Taking thousands of pounds of illegal marijuana off our local streets is the mission behind a state task force.  

The NBC4 I-Team has been following the task force as it busts unlicensed cannabis dealers in Southern California -- many hiding inside homes and near schools. 

Investigators say the most recent operation in the South Los Angeles area targeted illegal shops that often operate in plain sight.      

They may look legitimate, but officials with the California Department of Cannabis Control say they are not. They say the shops often sell products that are banned in the state and are potentially dangerous.  

“There could be mold in there. There could be pesticides. Frequently there's both and other contaminants,” DCC Law Enforcement Division Chief Bill Jones said.  

The DCC says some of the illegal shops go to great lengths to make products look like the regulated real thing, including using QR codes that even link to a licensed operator.      

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife also takes part in the task force.  

"Usually, we're dealing with outdoor harvest on the Fish and Wildlife end. There's a lot of environmental damage that goes into the product being grown, harvested, etc. So, by the time they get it here, it's probably got banned or illegally used chemicals in the process,” Assistant Chief Frank Imbrie said.

The California Department of Tax and Fee Administration is also part of the state task force. During this and other operations, they look for receipts and sales records.   

“The money that these folks are not paying could have come back here and would have come back to this community to clean it up and to health care, public safety, schools and all those kinds of things,” Tama Adamek, from CDTFA, said.   

Among the illegal cannabis and cash inside one location visited by investigators, investigators say they also found an unlicensed, untraceable gun.      

"It was a ghost gun, semiautomatic AR rifle short barrel,” Chief Jones said.  "One hundred percent illegal,” he added.    

He says these illegitimate shops often have heavy security and tend to attract other criminals.      

The DCC told the I-Team one of the three locations visited with the task force was linked to a local gang and sits one block from an elementary school.     

From 2021 to 2022, DCC-led search warrants more than doubled, pounds of cannabis seized increased by 246%, arrests more than tripled, and cannabis plants destroyed saw a more than 1,200% spike, according to data provided to the I-Team by a DCC spokesperson.  

DCC Led    2021   2022   Percent Change   
Search Warrant Operations   62   155   150%   
Pounds of Seized Cannabis   41,726.68   144,254.71   246%   
Retail Value of Seized Product   $77,772,936.07   $243,017,836.53   212%   
Cannabis Plants Eradicated    19,221   264,196   1,274%   
Firearms Seized   40   54   35%   
Money Seized   $6,091,730.11   $1,297,163.29   -79%   
Arrests   17   56   229%  
Source: CA Department of Cannabis Control

In this latest operation, DCC says 766.55 pounds of cannabis was seized from 11 locations with an estimated value of $1,439,740.81      

DCC’s advice to find a legitimate shop: look for a license from their agency. Shops that are paying their taxes and operating legally must display the license.    

The DCC also has a License Search Tool, which they say is updated daily and contains information about businesses licensed with their department. You can verify if a cannabis business is licensed here.

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