marijuana news

Bill Allowing Locals to Ban All Cannabis Deliveries Defeated in Committee

smokesacto.jpg

 A bill that would have allowed local jurisdictions to ban cannabis deliveries originating outside their jurisdictional borders, was defeated in its first committee hearing today after cannabis activists and industry representatives objected to the bill.

Cal NORML wrote to the committee and testified against the bill, and promulgated an Action Alert that generated hundreds of letters to lawmakers in opposition. Thanks to all of our members and supporters who took action!

In introducing the bill, Asm. Cooley noted that he has been involved in both cannabis and local control issues for many years, citing his success as mayor of Rancho Cordova in enacting a local tax on cannabis businesses (however, that tax is overly high and was objected to by Cal NORML). Several times he referred to locals getting past a "parade of horribles" and tried to argue that passing the bill would somehow encourage locals to license cannabis businesses. He conceded that Prop. 64 allowed locals to ban adult-use cannabis businesses, not medical ones.

Unsurprisingly, the League of Cities, Rural County Representatives of California (RCRC), and California Association of Counties (CSAC) expressed support for the bill, as did the City of Santa Monica.

Amy Jenkins of the California Cannabis Industry Association testified that the CCIA must "sadly and regrettably" oppose. She gave statistics on the abysmal failure of local jurisdictions to license an adequate number of cannabis retail outlets as the reason that delivery access must be permitted.

Ellen Komp of Cal NORML and Sabrina Fendrick of Berkeley Patients' Group challenged Asm. Cooley's assertion that patients who required access would be able to grow their own, citing restrictive local cultivation ordinances, the lack of renters' rights, and the inability for disabled patients to grow their own.

Also opposing the bill were representatives from Epilepsy CA, the CA Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Weedmaps, and the city of St. Helena, as well as a score of veterans.

After the public testimony, Asm. Grayson (D-Concord) spoke first, saying that while he is in favor of local control, he wouldn't be able to support the bill because delivery is necessary for those who need cannabis. "No doubt that my mother would be alive today had she had access," he said. "I thought delivery allowed people to have access when locals banned storefronts."

Asm. Eggman (D-Stockton) then spoke up, saying, "I don’t think you can take something away from people after you have provided access." Noting she is also a veteran, she mentioned the opioid crisis as a consideration.

Asm. McCarty (D-Sacramento) then chimed in saying he could not vote for the bill, noting that while Sacramento was "killing it" bringing in tax revenue from licensed dispensaries, people were driving as much as 100 miles to those dispensaries, and many don’t have access to transportation. "By having more jurisdictions shut it down, it just means fewer tax dollars coming into California and perpetuates the illegal market," he said.

Committee chairman Evan Low (D-San Jose) announced that he would be voting in favor of the bill in order to keep the conversation going, but said he would vote against it in future if it was not amended.

The vote fell on bipartisan lines, with Republicans Bill Brough (Dana Point), Vince Fong (Bakersfield), and Jay Obernolte (Hesperia), and Democrats Jacqui Irwin (Oxnard), Jose Medina (Riverside) and Kevin Mullin (San Mateo) joining Low in voting Aye.

Voting No were Assembly members Bloom, Chen, Cunningham, Eggman, Gloria, McCarty, and Ting; Chiu, Dahle, Gipson, Grayson, Holden and Wood abstained. The final tally was 7 in favor and 7 against, with 6 members not voting.

In the meantime, 24 cities and the county of Santa Cruz have filed suit against the Bureau of Cannabis Control over its regulation allowing state-licensed delivery services to deliver cannabis statewide.

Los Angeles hiring cannabis social equity program manager

76761457_l-236x236.jpg

The Department of Cannabis Regulation (DCR) in the city of Los Angeles is looking for someone to run its social equity program.

The project is part of a handful of efforts in California intended to get minorities and those negatively affected by the war on drugs involved directly in the state’s legal marijuana industry.

According to an online job posting, the position pays $95,776 to $140,021, requires a master’s degree and at least three years of experience with either economic and community development or providing services to low-income, minority or underserved communities.

The L.A. social equity program has been a point of contention for many in the city’s struggling legal cannabis market and has not yet been fully rolled out.

Other California cities that have social equity programs include Oakland, Sacramento and San Francisco.

California state marijuana excise tax could go up July 1

California state marijuana excise tax could go up July 1

taxes-e1516902993871-236x236.jpg

Although the California marijuana industry has hoped for tax relief as it struggles to compete with a thriving illicit market, a tax increase could be on the way.

A tax hike would hit cannabis companies’ bottom line and could drive more consumers into the illicit market in search of cheaper marijuana products.

But an increase isn’t a foregone conclusion. Moreover, a tax cut could occur.

The California Department of Tax and Fee Administration (CDTFA) uses a 60% markup rate, along with the average market price of wholesale marijuana, as a basis for the state’s 15% marijuana excise tax.

That markup rate has to be recalculated every six months, and CDTFA Director Nicolas Maduros told an industry conference this week in Sacramento the excise tax may go up this summer.

“We’re responsible for resetting that markup rate every six months, so it will be reset July 1,” Maduros said, when asked during a panel with other MJ regulators.


“It’s based on market data, and I think particularly once …track-and-traceis more fully utilized, that we’ll have some better pricing data to figure out what that markup rate should be,” Maduros said.


The state track-and-trace system launched in January but is only used by cannabis companies with annual business licenses.

And so far just a fraction of the legal companies have obtained those permits, which means most of the industry isn’t feeding data into the track-and-trace system.

“We’re administrators, so it’s not up to us to sort of use that as a way to lower or increase the tax burden. We’re simply looking at what the facts are. It’s up to the legislature … to determine what the actual tax rate is,” he said.

When asked if the markup rate – and therefore the excise tax – could increase, Maduros said: “It could.”

It’s worth noting, however, that the rate also could either decrease or stay the same.

A CDTFA spokesman said in an email that there’s also no cap on how much the markup rate could increase – or decrease.

What a markup could mean

Maduros said after the panel that any decision on the markup rate and the excise tax will not be made until June at the earliest.

The markup recalculation would not affect the state cultivation tax, which is $9.25 per ounce of flower, $2.75 per ounce of leaves and $1.29 per ounce of fresh plant.

California Cannabis Industry Association Spokesman Josh Drayton said that a tax increase “would only further damage the supply chain as it competes against the illicit market.”

But, Drayton emphasized, it’s possible the excise tax may either stay the same or even decrease, and said it’s too early to tell what will happen with the CDTFA’s recalculation.

“I think we need full implementation of Metrc and track-and-trace before we consider any increase,” Drayton said.

“We have not seen any data that would support an increase in the excise tax for any part of the supply chain.”

Separately, a state bill to temporarily reduce state cannabis taxes is awaiting hearings in the California Legislature.

If successful, Assembly Bill 286 would reduce the excise tax from 15% to 11% and suspend the cultivation tax until 2022.



California only made half as much on 2018 marijuana taxes as expected

When California, the most populous state in America, legalized recreational marijuana last year, many had high hopes for the industry, writes Joseph Misulonas. But unfortunately, it appears initial projections for the success of the industry were a little off.

The California Department of Tax and Fee Administration announced that in 2018 the state collected $345.2 million from marijuana taxes. While that is a huge number, it's actually only slightly more than half of the state's initial projections of $643 million in tax revenue that they predicted they would receive in 2018. 

Many have argued why the state didn't make more money off of legal sales. The biggest reason seems to be the tax rate. California has some of the highest cannabis taxes in the nation, and customers can sometimes pay tax rates up to 45 percent on their marijuana purchases. These high prices are forcing many cannabis users to continue purchasing black market marijuana. This would also explain why California cannabis sales actually decreased between 2017 and 2018, despite it being legal recreationally last year.

Despite the fact that almost everyone acknowledges the tax rate is an issue, California legislators continue dragging their feet on the issue and not passing bills to lower the rate, despite several proposals to do so.

Employers May Lose Cases for Firing Medical Marijuana Users

100218APRulingCannabisBanner-110x96.jpg

 Health-care worker Katelin Noffsinger told a potential employer that she took medical cannabis to deal with the effects of a car crash, but when a drug test came back positive, the nursing home rescinded her job offer anyway.

A federal judge ruled in September 2018 that the nursing home, which had cited federal laws against cannabis use, violated an anti-discrimination provision of Connecticut‘s medical marijuana law.

It was the latest in a series of clashes between U.S. and state laws around the country that came out in favor of medical cannabis users trying to keep or obtain jobs with drug-testing employers.

The Connecticut decision was the first ruling of its kind in a federal case and followed similar recent rulings against employers by state courts in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Earlier rulings had gone against medical cannabis users in employment cases by state supreme courts, including those in California, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington, over the past few years.

Advocates hope new the new decisions are a signal of growing acceptance of cannabis’ medicinal value.

“This decision reflects the rapidly changing cultural and legal status of cannabis, and affirms that employers should not be able to discriminate against those who use marijuana responsibly while off the job, in compliance with the laws of their state,” said Paul Armentano, deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).

Medical marijuana, like the cannabis cuttings growing in a Sira Naturals cultivation facility in Milford Massachusetts, is reshaping employment law. A U.S. District judge in New Haven, Connecticut, ruled in favor of a woman who alleged a prospective employer discriminated against her when she sought a health-care job and informed the company she used medical marijuana to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) resulting from a car crash. The judge found that the nursing home violated Connecticut’s anti-discrimination law protecting medical cannabis users despite marijuana remaining illegal at the federal level. (Associated Press File Photo/Steven Senne)

 

Noffsinger sued Bride Brook Health and Rehabilitation Center in Niantic in 2016. She had been offered, and accepted, a job as recreation therapy director at the nursing home, contingent on her passing a drug test.

She told the nursing home that she took synthetic marijuana pills — legally under state law and only at night — to treat the post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) she developed after the 2012 car accident. But the company rescinded the job offer after the drug test came back positive for THC, the chemical in marijuana that gets people high.

As a federal contractor, the nursing home worried that it could be cut off from that revenue if it employed somebody who tested positive for drugs.

On Sept. 5, 2018, U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Meyer in New Haven ruled Bride Brook discriminated against Noffsinger based solely on her medical cannabis use in violation of state law. He denied her request for punitive damages. The case is now heading to a trial on whether Noffsinger should receive compensatory damages for lost wages from not getting the job.

A lawyer for the nursing home, Thomas Blatchley, declined to comment.

Noffsinger’s attorney, Henry Murray, said his client would not comment on the lawsuit. He said Noffsinger has taken another job in the health-care industry that doesn’t pay as much as the Bride Brook job.

In his ruling, Meyer said the federal Drug Free Workplace Act, which many employers including federal contractors rely on for policies on drug testing, does not actually require drug testing and does not prohibit federal contractors from employing people who use medical cannabis outside the workplace in accordance with state law.

The decision will likely be used in arguments in similar cases elsewhere, said Fiona Ong, an employment attorney with the Baltimore firm of Shawe Rosenthal.

“This is a very significant case that throws the issue in doubt for many of these federal contractors,” Ong said. “It’s certainly interesting and may be indicative of where the courts are going with this.”

Thirty-one states, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, and Guam now allow medical marijuana, while 15 others have approved low-THC products for medical reasons in certain cases, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Nine states and Washington, D.C., have legalized recreational marijuana.

Only nine states including Connecticut, however, specifically ban employment discrimination against medical marijuana users, who could continue to face difficulties in obtaining or keeping jobs in the 41 other states, employment lawyers say.

In Massachusetts, the state’s highest court ruled in 2017 that a sales and marketing company wrongly fired a worker after her first day on the job after she tested positive for cannabis, which she used under the state’s medical marijuana law to treat her Crohn’s disease. Also in 2017, the Rhode Island state Supreme Court said a college student was wrongly denied an internship at a fabric company where officials refused to hire her after she acknowledged she could not pass a drug test because she used medical marijuana.

In both cases, the two women told the companies during the hiring process that they used medical marijuana, but would not consume it while on the job.

The American Bar Association called the Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island cases “an emerging trend in employment litigation” and cautioned employers to consider state medical cannabis laws when analyzing their drug use and testing policies.

Several bills are pending before Congress that would undo marijuana’s Schedule I classification as a controlled substance with no medicinal value. But Armentano of NORML said it is unlikely they will go anywhere while Republicans control Congress.

Some employers, though, have dropped marijuana from the drug tests they require of employees, saying the testing excludes too many potential workers in a challenging hiring environment.

Oklahoma Begins Medical Marijuana Approval Process, Issuing First Patient Licenses

medical-marijuana-dispensary-licenses-delayed-ohio-hero.jpg

Cannabis has been a pressing issue in Oklahoma lately. Earlier this summer, voters approved the legalization of medical marijuana. Since then, the state has been moving fast to implement the new program. As Oklahoma begins the medical marijuana approval process, issuing its first patient licenses, the state has taken a big step toward making medical marijuana a reality.

Oklahoma and Medical Marijuana

Last weekend was a potential landmark for medical marijuana in Oklahoma. On Saturday, the state’s medical marijuana application system went online. It was instantly flooded with applications from patients, businesses, and caregivers.

ADVERTISING

  

 

According to the Associated Press, it was a big first day. In particular, the state received 1,054 applications from patients, 634 applications from business hopefuls, and three more applications from potential caregivers.

By the end of the day, the state had received around $1.5 million in application fees.

 

On the same day, the state also started issuing its first round of licenses. Over the weekend, authorities gave licenses to 23 patients.

This first small round of licenses was reportedly completed mostly as a way of testing the state’s system for receiving and reviewing applications, and for issuing licenses. If authorities are satisfied with the online system’s weekend performance, they plan to resume issuing licenses this week.

So far, the state’s online application portal seems to be working well. By the end of the weekend, state officials reported only a couple of minor errors. The main issue was that people with Yahoo and iCloud email accounts didn’t receive automated confirmation emails. The glitch was apparently fixed quickly.

 

The weekend’s licensing activity was the latest chapter in Oklahoma’s medical marijuana drama. Earlier this summer, voters approved a bill to legalize medical marijuana.

Despite winning the majority vote, the bill still faced significant opposition that carried over, even after the vote.

In particular, there was a lot of back and forth as advocacy groups and lawmakers attempted to make various amendments and revisions to the medical marijuana program. One of the biggest debates centered on whether or not the state would allow smokable marijuana.

 

Shortly after voters approved the legalization of medical marijuana, there was a surge of voices calling for the ban of smokable cannabis. The Oklahoma State Board of Health actually issued a ban on smokable medical marijuana.

The Board said that actual bud or other plant matter should not be allowed in dispensaries. It said it would still allow patients to grow their own smokable cannabis at home.

However, Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin struck down that ban earlier this month when she signed a number of revised regulations.

The revised set of rules signed by Gov. Fallin did not include a ban on smokable marijuana. Similarly, the new rules also got rid of an attempt to require every dispensary to have a pharmacist on site.

For proponents of medical marijuana, Gov. Fallin’s revisions were important steps to ensure that medical marijuana is accessible to a broad range of patients.

Now that the state’s application system is up and running, the state can start officially issuing licenses. Advocates of medical marijuana hope to see marijuana sales begin sometime in the near future.

Report Shows Teen Marijuana Use in California Has Declined

report-shows-teen-marijuana-use-california-declined-featured-400x240.jpg

A statewide study in California has found that cannabis use by teens in the state has declined. Results of the California Healthy Kids Survey were released by the California Department of Education on Monday. The study is funded by the state’s health and education departments and is conducted every two years.

According to the research, 4.2 percent of 7th graders reported that they had used cannabis at any time between 2015 and 2017. That figure represents a 47 percent drop from the last survey when 7.9 percent of 7th graders reported using marijuana from 2013 to 2015.

Among 9th graders, 17.4 percent reported that they had used cannabis at some time during 2015 to 2017. That is a 25 percent decline from the 23.1 percent who reported using marijuana in the previous study.

Eleventh graders also showed a reduction in marijuana use. In the last survey, 37.9 percent of high school juniors said they had used cannabis between 2013 and 2015 while this year’s result for 2015 to 2017 recorded a 16 percent decline with 31.9 percent claiming cannabis use.

 

The percentage of teens who had used cannabis in the 30 days prior to the survey also declined. For 7th graders, the figure dropped from 5.0 percent in the last survey to 2.3 percent for the latest one. For 9th graders, the drop was from 13.4 percent to 9.5 percent, and for 11th graders, the number declined from 20.1 percent to 16.7 percent.

Will Legalization Affect Future Results?

The study’s authors noted that the survey was conducted prior to the legalization of recreational marijuana sales, which began in California at the beginning of 2018.

“How the recent legalization of marijuana use for adults in California [affects] the declining trend among youth warrants attention,” they wrote.

 

“The next biennial survey will be of particular interest to shed light on whether the change in state marijuana laws [affects] these findings,” researchers added.

Tom Torlakson, the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, said in a press release that educators have a role in making sure that cannabis legalization does not lead to increased use by young people.

“We must continue to be diligent in our efforts to prevent, or at least limit, marijuana use in light of the potential effect of the legalization for adults as a result of the passage of Proposition 64 two years ago,” Torlakson said.

 

Cannabis Activist Responds

Ellen Komp, deputy director of California NORML, said in a blog post from the advocacy group that the legalization of recreational cannabis is actually a factor in the decline of use by teens.

“These initial reports confirm that legalizing and regulating cannabis doesn’t increase youth marijuana use, but rather it has the opposite effect,” said Komp. “The fact that the biggest drop in reported use came from younger age groups is a particularly encouraging indicator of the success of regulation.”

Komp also said that sound cannabis policy reforms are the best way to keep California residents and their communities safe.

“It’s time to stop trying to ‘send a message’ to young people about drugs and instead implement sound, science-based policies that best protect our children and public safety, along with our privacy and human rights,” Komp said.

Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Votes to Legalize Marijuana

commonwealth-northern-mariana-islands-votes-legalize-marijuana-feature-400x240.jpg

5,871 miles of open Pacific Ocean waters separate the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) from the coast of California. But the 15-island chain that makes up the United States’ westernmost territory is poised to do something no U.S. state has ever done.

On Wednesday, 18 of CNMI’s 20 legislators voted to approve a bill to legalize cannabis for adult use. The bill would also legalize medical cannabis and industrial hemp. And if CNMI Governor Ralph Torres enacts the bill, the territory will make legalization history—twice.

CNMI Would Be First U.S. Jurisdiction to Go From Total Prohibition to Full Legalization

This isn’t the first time CNMI lawmakers attempted to legalize cannabis. As recently as May, the CNMI Senate approved a piece of legislation nearly identical to the House-approved bill. Procedural issues, however, stymied the bill’s progress.

After another false start in the Senate, the House opted to file its own bill. It took less than a week for the full chamber to vote to approve the proposal.

 

That act alone makes CNMI unique among the 9 U.S. states that have legalized adult-use marijuana. Vermont comes closest, having legalized marijuana through a legislative process rather than a ballot initiative. But unlike CNMI’s proposed legislation, Vermont’s law doesn’t establish a retail market. The Mariana Islands’ legislation would.

There’s a second way CNMI would make legalization history if the bill becomes law. Every U.S. state that has legalized adult-use marijuana did so only after establishing a medical cannabis program. But in CNMI, there is no medical marijuana. The territory would be the first U.S. jurisdiction to go from total prohibition to full legalization.

What’s Next for Legal Cannabis in U.S. Territories?

Despite the tremendous distance between the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and the continental United States, the territory has been closely watching legal cannabis unfold there. Indeed, the overwhelming support for the proposal in the House is due to lawmakers’ recognizing the significant benefits of legal weed.

 

The full text of the legislation, SB 20-62, cites how states with regulated markets for marijuana “have observed real and significant benefits to public health, safety and quality of life for all residents,” and goes on to list medical benefits like treatments for pain, epilepsy and PTSD, social benefits like a reduction in overdose deaths and lowered crime and economic benefits like tax revenue and job growth.

But the bill still has a couple more hurdles to clear before it becomes law. The CNMI Cannabis Act of 2018 is currently on its way back to the Senate for approval. After that, it will head to the desk of Gov. Ralph Torres, a Republican who has expressed concerns about legalization.

In response to House passage of the bill, Torres stressed the importance of taking “a look at both sides of the coin.” Torres wondered about the crime statistics in states with legal weed and other public safety issues.

 

Whether those reservations would ultimately lead Gov. Torres to veto the legislative effort and oppose the will of CNMI residents, however, remains to be seen. Public hearings about the act had higher attendance than any hearings senators could remember. Initially, legislators had designed the bill as a voter referendum before adopting it in the Senate.

Marijuana festivals, and businesses that benefit from them, are hurting now that cannabis is legal in California

99e68eb3fd74516fa10e4ce4d043f679.jpg

Marijuana festivals, and businesses that benefit from them, are hurting now that cannabis is legal in California

July 5, 2018 

Marijuana festival organizers were banking on this to be their biggest year yet, now that recreational cannabis is legal in California and the state is legitimizing such events by licensing them for the first time.

Promoters say they planned to stop operating under the loose protections of the state’s medical marijuana laws, where they’d force attendees to get doctor’s recommendations for cannabis before entering the gates. Instead, they hoped to have licenses that would allow anyone 21 and older to buy and smoke cannabis, just like they can buy and drink beer at other festivals.

But with local authorities now able to block such festivals even from the limited venues where they’re permitted by new state rules, there weren’t any state-sanctioned events in Southern California during the first half of the year. And none are on the horizon for the rest of 2018.

The picture is a bit brighter in Northern California. The state licensed marijuana festivals this spring in Sacramento and in Santa Rosa, where the massive Emerald Cup is also expected to go off in December without a hitch.

Surge in Illegal California Pot Shops Undercuts Legal Market

544c5f5b1e081b2cde112b8306eadb54.jpg

In this March 15, 2018 photo, a Los Angeles County Sheriff's deputy keeps watch on a group of people apprehended at an illegal marijuana dispensary in Compton, Calif. The number of outlaw dispensaries in the county greatly outnumbers the about 150 licensed storefront retailers. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)The Associated Press

 

By MICHAEL BALSAMO, Associated Press

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A slight marijuana smell wafted out as a steady stream of customers walked into a warehouse, its doors and windows covered by bars.

Suddenly, police swooped in.

"Sheriff's department! Search warrant!" a Los Angeles County deputy shouted as the team thundered through the front door and began hauling out people in handcuffs.

The Compton 20 Cap Collective just south of Los Angeles that was raided earlier this spring is one of hundreds of illegal marijuana stores operating in LA County, where marijuana is legal for anyone 21 and over and retailers must be licensed to sell to them.

 

 

Broad marijuana legalization arrived in California at the start of the year. From the beginning, there was concern the legal market would be undercut by the massive black market that has existed for decades.

And that's what's happening. Nowhere is it a bigger problem than in the state's biggest legal local marijuana market: Los Angeles County.

The number of outlaw dispensaries in the county greatly outnumbers about 150 licensed storefront retailers.

RELATED CONTENT

 

That reality is a buzzkill for those trying to play by the rules.

Legal pot shops are losing customers who can get products more cheaply at illegal outlets that don't charge or pay taxes, said Adam Spiker, executive director of the Southern California Coalition, a trade organization that represents cannabis growers, distributors and dispensary owners.

It's an "unfair competitive situation for licensed businesses," Spiker said.

"I think if you turn the tables and took cannabis out of the equation — if it was another industry that didn't have the stigmas — the government would do everything they could to give those licensed business paying taxes a level playing field."

One of the selling points for legalization was it would generate a tax windfall for state and local governments. However, during the first quarter, the state reported only $34 million from cultivation and excise taxes, putting it on pace to fall well below the $175 million forecast for the first six months.

In April, state regulators sent nearly 1,000 cease-and-desist letters to cannabis businesses they suspected were operating illegally. An analysis by the trade publication Marijuana Business Daily found about 64 percent of the businesses were in the Los Angeles metropolitan area.

Last month, the Los Angeles city attorney's office charged 142 people as part of a crackdown on illegal dispensaries. It also sent cease-and-desist letters but declined to say how many.

Los Angeles County boasts the nation's largest sheriff's department, but even it has nowhere near the manpower to take down all the illegal pot shops. A task force overseen by Lt. Frank Montez raids an average of one dispensary a week.

However, the voter-approved ballot measure legalizing cannabis in California included a provision that made possessing more than 28.5 grams only a misdemeanor. That means officers can seize businesses' cash and marijuana, but employees and owners rarely face jail, and illegal operations often quickly reopen.

"It's a money-lucrative business so there are people willing to take the risk," said Capt. Holly Francisco, who commands the sheriff's department's narcotics unit.

Montez sees his work as more than code enforcement. Marijuana sold illegally may be tainted with illegal pesticides and other harmful substances. And licensed marijuana shop owners who pay their taxes should have a fair playing field, he said.

"When you have an illegitimate, illegal dispensary operating, that not only hurts the industry as a whole but that really hurts the community," Montez said.

At the Compton store, a sign above a security window says customers must be at least 18 and have a physician's recommendation to buy medical marijuana and be 21 and have a valid photo ID for anything else. Like many others, the shop operated in plain sight and advertised online, including on WeedMaps, a go-to website for people looking to buy cannabis.

Inside, whiteboards on dirt-smudged walls advertised the prices for different types of cannabis and concentrates.

Cartridges for vapor pens and "Shatter," a honey-like oil containing cannabis extract, cost between $15 and $30. Large display cases held jars of branded marijuana strains — 28 grams of "Purple Dragon" sold for $160.

"People out here on the street are thinking it is a legitimate operation and are smoking this cannabis with all these dangerous pesticides, and they are really killing themselves," Montez said.

Some illegal pot shops look so legitimate that customers may not even realize they are illegal unless they figure out they aren't being charged tax. But like any shopper looking for the best deal, plenty know these places are illegal and go because it's cheaper.

While some illegal LA County pot shops grow their own plants, many are supplied by illegal grows in the hills of Northern California, long a major source of all U.S. pot.

Lake County, about 125 miles (201 kilometers) north of San Francisco, is home to many such grows because of its topography, which allows pot farmers to easily hide large operations. It has an abundance of federal and state forests and land where cartels set up operations.

Like the LA County Sheriff's Department, Lake County lacks the manpower to put much of a dent in illegal operations.

Deputies patrol on the ground and in helicopters, and last year they destroyed about 250,000 plants and arrested 46 people for illegal grows, Sheriff Brian Martin said.

He has no estimate for the number of illegal grows in the county but is confident the hundreds of thousands of plants deputies chop down each year are "just the tip of the iceberg."

Martin said his short-staffed department has assigned a single a detective full-time to marijuana eradication. He counts on help from state and federal agencies, but they too have their priorities.

"It's all about manpower," he said. "No one has enough of it."