Our FOX 11 Investigation has turned up a growing problem: illegal marijuana dispensaries masquerading as "legit" medical pot shops. Police tell us they are essentially fronts for criminals, whether it be gang bangers trying to dominate the marijuana business or more sophisticated drug dealers pushing cocaine smuggled up here through Mexican cartels. We've heard of and covered raids from the San Fernando Valley to Hollywood to South L. A. We now have some strong examples of just how deep the criminal world is intertwined with the world of so-called medical marijuana.
In reviewing several LAPD search warrants, for example, police say that a couple of gang members they recently busted, with long rap sheets, control about 25 dispensaries and it's estimated by investigators they make $5,000 to $10,000 dollars a day in profits. In another case, this one from the DEA, a Koreatown ‘'dispensary'' owner was busted for allegedly agreeing to sell kilos of cocaine to undercover agents. Meantime, while their cases go through the legal system, their shops remain open. Frustrating to law enforcement, frustrating to community members who are upset that so many of these places are magnets for robberies and other violent crimes (it's a cash business), and frustrating for the legitimate owners of legal dispensaries.
Of the 700 or so pot shops in the city (there are various estimates on the exact number), only 135 of them meet the definition of "legal" under Prop D. That law requires the collective selling medical marijuana to have opened before 2007, be licensed, pay business taxes and so forth. The city attorney's office says it has made progress closing down all the shops that shouldn't be in business.
Medical marijuana certainly seems to help those with a real medical need, it also seems to help those who are interested in cashing in on it by any means possible, even if it means going to jail. These drug dealers are committing felonies, far beyond the scope of the regulations of Prop D, and putting them behind bars is an ongoing challenge, but seems to be a drop in the bucket because the profit motive is so strong the bad guys will risk prison time to make that money.
FIND LEGAL POT CLINICS IN LOS ANGELES: the list of those 135 or so dispensaries open prior to the Sept. 14, 2007 "Interim Control Ordinance"