Humboldt County Collects $2 Million in Fines from Illegal Growers

Humboldt County continues to step up enforcement against illegal growers. Over the past year, the Humboldt County Code Enforcement Unit in California has actively identified illegal grow operations using satellite imagery. The county pays over $200,000 a year to access Planet’s software, which allows the staff to quickly identify possible violators.

The Eureka Times Standard reports that cannabis enforcement efforts are up 700% in 2018, and brought in over $2 million in fines for the county. Humboldt County holds around 20% of the overall commercial cultivation licenses in California.

The fines sought by the regulators continue to increase. In October, the Enforcement Unit was seeking a $10,000 per day penalty against 87 growers for commercial cannabis land use and building code violations. The illegal grow sites were given 10 days to dispose of the cannabis plants and illegal structures, after which, the $10,000 per day fine took effect.

Today, the Enforcement Unit is seeking fines per day fines of between $20,000 and $30,000 for code violations. Now that cannabis is legal, regulators are raising administrative fines as a means of forcing cannabis operators into the legal market. Humboldt County continues to transform its legendary cannabis market into the legal framework, although at a greater cost and regulatory burden for its local residents.

Los Angeles Creates SWAT Team to Tackle Illegal Cannabis Businesses

The Los Angeles City Council approved recommendations to fund a Business, Licensing and Compliance program designed to shut down illegal cannabis businesses. Los Angeles will pay $3 million per year over the next three years to establish an inter-agency enforcement response team comprised of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), the Los Angeles Fire Department, the Department of Cannabis Regulation, and the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety. The group will share information about illegal operations through a new technology platform, and work together to direct enforcement efforts.

Over the past year, Los Angeles has developed creative administrative measures to tackle the growth of illegal cannabis businesses including shutting off their electricity and access to premises. In the report dated November 9, 2018, the LAPD indicated that, during the prior year, it executed 143 search warrants on unlicensed businesses, and made 435 arrests. The LAPD confiscated 67 firearms, over $600,000 in money and 34,852 pounds of cannabis. The arrests did little to stop the reopening of the unlicensed businesses. The LAPD indicated that additional enforcement efforts were needed as the misdemeanor charges for most violations was not adequate.

US Government Says Pot Smokers Lack the Good Moral Character Required of US Citizens

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a policy statement notifying persons seeking US citizenship that the process is at risk if they use marijuana or engage in marijuana related business activities. The DHC policy explains that persons who are convicted of a marijuana charge or admit to engaging in marijuana activities do not exhibit the good moral character that is required of a US citizen.

The policy statement is the latest warning shot to persons applying for US citizenship. Denver recently issued a Marijuana Information Bullet to notify industry participants that the US Department of Justice (DOJ) has denied two applications for citizenship by persons who are employed in the cannabis industry. Denver has asked the marijuana industry to inform current and future employees about the negative impact that working for a cannabis company may have on an individual’s ability to become a US citizen or to stay in the United States. Persons who are impacted by this US DOJ policy should speak with an immigration attorney.

Los Angeles to Shut Off Illegal Pot Shops' Electricity

Los Angeles will soon be adopting an ordinance that is aimed at shutting down illegal pot shops. The Los Angeles City Council directed the City Attorney to draft an ordinance as quickly as possible. At a meeting held on February 26, 2019, City Council members voiced their frustration over the inability to effectively shut down the illegal operations that are not following the rules. Illegal pot shops reduce the city’s overall tax revenues and engage in criminal activities.

The proposed ordinance would allow the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) to disconnect utility services after the Department of Cannabis Regulation has informed the illegal pot shop that it needs a license to operate, and a Los Angeles city department confirms that illegal cannabis activity is occurring at the address

The city of Los Angeles started to focus on shutting unlicensed cannabis businesses in July 2018. The Los Angeles Police Department issued a report on November 9, 2018 that noted that, in the last year, it executed 143 search warrants on unlicensed businesses, and made 435 arrests. The LAPD also confiscated 67 firearms, over $600,000 in money and 34,852 pounds of cannabis. The arrests did little to stop the reopening of the unlicensed businesses. The LAPD indicated that additional enforcement efforts are needed as the misdemeanor charges for most violations is not adequate.

Oregon Issues Warning About Criminal Charges for Shipping Hemp Across State Lines

The Oregon Department of Agriculture (DOA) has issued a warning related to the transport of hemp and hemp commodities across state lines. The DOA has indicated that states bordering Oregon are stopping trucks that are carrying hemp products, and charging the drivers with criminal violations. Oregon is reminding state businesses that other states may still consider hemp to be a Schedule 1 drug, which would be considered illegal possession of cannabis. Businesses involved in the cultivation, processing, transport or sale of hemp or hemp products should review state laws to determine where industrial hemp has been exempted from the state’s definition of cannabis or marijuana. Failure to do so could result in criminal or civil charges.

Oregon Revokes Grower's License Due to Compliance Violations

The Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC) revoked Panda Farms license for serious compliance violations discovered during three (3) separate inspections. The OLCC discovered during the inspections that Panda Farms, among other violations, made changes to the premises without obtaining prior approval; failed to retain or produce video recordings or implement enough surveillance cameras to ensure all coverage areas are captured; failed to tag and track certain inventory; and failed to prevent access to restricted areas or implement safeguards to prevent theft. Panda Farms will have until May 21, 2019 to surrender its license or transfer ownership.

San Francisco Announces Increased and Focused Cannabis Enforcement Priorities

The San Francisco Office of Cannabis issued a bulletin outlining its cannabis enforcement priorities. The bulletin reminded licensees that the Office of Cannabis may enter and inspect any cannabis establishment or vehicle used for deliveries or distribution for compliance with regulatory obligations. The Office of Cannabis will pursue rule violations that produce (1) actual harm, (2) unacceptable risk of harm or (3) fraud or deception. The regulators announced that there will be increased and focused enforcement efforts as the industry matures.

Maine Bill Targets Open Marijuana Containers

The Maine Legislature introduced bill LD 141 that makes possession of an open marijuana container or consumption of marijuana in a vehicle by the driver or any passenger a traffic violation. An open marijuana container includes any marijuana or a consumable product that has a broken seal or a container that did not originally contain marijuana. Under the bill, an open marijuana container must be kept in the trunk or behind the back seat if the car has no trunk. The Joint Committee on Criminal Justice and Public Safety will hold a hearing on LD141 on February 6, 2019 at 10:00 am.

Oregon Revokes 2 Testing Licenses for Regulatory Violations

The Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC) revoked the cannabis testing licenses for Evio Labs Bend and Evio Labs Eugene / Oregon Analytical Services for allowing employees to take home cannabis samples intended for retesting. Laboratories test a sample of cannabis and retain a portion from the same batch in case of a retest. Under state law, the remaining cannabis must be destroyed. Evio violated OLCC regulations by providing employees with the cannabis, failing to document this transfer in the state’s inventory tracking system, and for destroying evidence and encouraging employees to lie to investigators. Evio initially requested a hearing but decided to enter into an agreement with the OLCC to settle the claims.

Los Angeles Cannabis Regulator Wants City to Adopt Rules to Shut Down Illegal Cannabis Businesses

The city of Los Angeles wants to shutter all unlicensed cannabis businesses. The Department of Cannabis Regulation (DCR) submitted a memo to the City Council on December 27, 2018 recommending certain measures to combat the hundreds of unlicensed cannabis businesses. The DCR approved these enforcement strategies during its November 29, 2018 meeting.

The DCR has recommended that the Los Angeles City Council adopt regulations to permit city officials to:

  • Cut off utility and power services to illegal cannabis businesses;

  • Bring enforcement actions against employees of unlicensed cannabis businesses;

  • Barricade, lock, or fence unlicensed businesses that fail to comply with a cease and desist orders

  • Permit Building and Safety Inspectors to perform non-criminal enforcement of illegal cannabis businesses;

  • Require licensed businesses to display a placard so that the public can identify a licensed cannabis business;

  • Force an eviction process by sending a cease and desist order to landlords; and

  • Notify business partners, creditors, banks etc. that the cannabis business is illegal.

The recommendations are the result of the City Council’s request in July 2018 for the city’s agencies to draft a report on enforcement operations including cannabis enforcement data and cost of operations. The report dated November 9, 2018 indicated that the Los Angeles Police Department’s (LAPD) executed 143 search warrants on unlicensed businesses, and made 435 arrests over the past year. The LAPD also confiscated 67 firearms, over $600,000 in money and 34,852 pounds of cannabis. The arrests did little to stop the reopening of the unlicensed businesses. The LAPD indicated that additional enforcement efforts are needed as the misdemeanor charges for most violations is not adequate.

The recommendations define the jurisdictional responsibility in Los Angeles for enforcing cannabis licensing requirements. The LAPD is responsible for significant criminal activity or complaints. The DCR is responsible for developing enforcement strategies that will close unlicensed cannabis businesses.