Los Angeles County has long been home to illegal cannabis endeavors, and now the Board of Supervisors has approved the introduction of an ordinance that could charge illegal cannabis operations tens of thousands of dollars per day.

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously on Tuesday to introduce an ordinance to start fining illegal cannabis businesses. Any cultivation or dispensaries operating without a permit in unincorporated areas of the county could soon be charged $30,000 every day. Although the introduction was approved, the ordinance still needs to be voted on by the Board for formal adoption.

The official motion text describes the “nuisance abatement ordinance” that could be approved in a future meeting. “The unpermitted commercial cannabis activities including illegal cannabis cultivation are incredibly profitable and in particular, cannabis cultivation has continued to proliferate due to the ease of establishment in more remote and rural locations,” the motion reads. “Therefore, the penalties contained within the draft ordinance should, consistent with State law, be adjusted and increased to ensure that they act as a deterrent to the continued operation of illegal commercial cannabis operations.”

The motion was written by Supervisors Kathryn Barger and Sheila Kuehl. “The County Code currently prohibits all commercial cannabis activity within the County’s unincorporated areas, including the establishment, maintenance, and operation of any commercial cannabis business activity, and the renting or leasing of, or allowing property to be used for that purpose in all zones,” the motion states. “However, the County continues to be inundated with unpermitted cannabis dispensaries in the unincorporated areas. Despite the efforts of numerous County departments, the growth of unpermitted cannabis dispensaries continues to outpace enforcement.”

Barger presented the motion with the hope that it could help cull illegal cannabis operations, noting that water supplies that contain chemicals pose both a threat to public safety, among other concerns. She states that even though the county’s work against illegal cannabis is steadfast, a lack of “legally enforceable options” puts the efforts at a disadvantage.

In a press release, Barger summarized how these illegal cannabis businesses are harming the county. “Unpermitted commercial cannabis cultivation is profitable and has thrived in the rural Antelope Valley because of how easy it is to stand up operations. Communities in the desert continue to report illegal large scale cannabis grows that have been accompanied by water theft, trespassing, trash and the use of dangerous pesticides and fertilizers, putting residents’ health and safety at risk.”

Supervisor Sheila Kuehl also agreed that something needs to be done. “California voters legalized recreational cannabis in order to create a system that assured consumers of product safety while prohibiting cannabis access to minors,” said Kuehl, “but illegal cannabis operations continue to  undermine the will of the people. This motion puts teeth in enforcement and ensures that unpermitted dispensaries face stiff penalties in the future.”

Supervisor Janice Hahn confirmed that strengthening and protecting the region’s legal cannabis businesses is also a way to tackle the illegal businesses head-on.

“I do know that providing a legal pathway for people to grow, produce, sell cannabis can help in some way to tackle the illegal market,” Hahn shared. “Hopefully, we’re going to be voting soon on the idea of legally providing options for cannabis businesses in unincorporated county [areas].” A news release on Barger’s website confirms that a study is being conducted to determine recommendations for legal cannabis businesses, such as retail, manufacturing, distribution and more.

In October 2021, Los Angeles County set aside $5 million to fund the effort to combat illegal cannabis in Antelope Valley. A press release states that $2.4 million will go to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and $1.2 million toward the department’s Marijuana Eradication Team, while $503,000 will go toward Lancaster Sheriff Station overtime patrols and $707,000 will be used to buy trucks that can traverse tough terrain in these investigations.