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West Coast Cure announced the discontinuation of street sales, according to text messages to unlicensed stores this year. “We will no longer be able to provide product to any collective. … we plan on working with you guys until we are sold out.” West Coast Cure product listings have since disappeared from Weedmaps. In 2019, West Coast Cure did obtain a distribution license, which allows them to legally transport cannabis from a farm or a lab to a store.

But distributors are not allowed to perform chemical extractions or fill vaping devices, which requires a manufacturing license. Since late August, when the VAPI outbreak became widely known, multiple tests have found potentially life-threatening ingredients in California’s street supply of illicit THC vape cartridges. The location of bootleg retailers is available at the tap of a smartphone app. Even so, civil and criminal prosecutions have proven slow in coming. Civil abatement programs have already eradicated acres of unpermitted cultivation in Humboldt and Sonoma County. Despite the ongoing public health crisis, state officials have not fined a single landlord $30,000 for renting to an illegal store. “We have not issued fines yet,” said California Bureau of Cannabis Control spokesperson Alex Traverso. In Los Angeles, Jerred Kiloh described a frustratingly “slow rollout” of civil fine enforcement by the state.

Kiloh is the president of the United Cannabis Business Association, a leading legal cannabis retailer’s trade group. “Right now, it seems like a calm or quiet time for enforcement,” said Kiloh. “They’re waiting to make sure all of the mechanisms are in place so that when they do collect a fine, there’s a clear pathway to prove there has been illegal behavior and to get a court to give them a judgment to recover these fines.” City of LA: ‘We’re taking action’ We contacted members of the Los Angeles City Council who represent districts with a lot of illegal cannabis vendors. They referred us to an ad hoc enforcement task force announced in May. A spokesperson for Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti confirmed that a coalition of city agencies are working with the LA Police Department to root out bad actors in the cannabis space, and claim to have reduced the estimated number of illegal outlets by 44% in the past five months. “Unlicensed cannabis businesses operate outside of the safe, legal, and equitable rules that have been established to regulate the industry,” the Garcetti spokesperson told Leafly by email. “We’re taking action to protect Angelenos’ health and safety.” City authorities have, in fact, taken some actions. In August, the task force cut power to 194 unpermitted marijuana retailers and promised to send threatening letters to their landlords. In response, some shops shut down but others reportedly brought in gasoline or diesel generators. Meanwhile, the controversy over the listing of illegal vape cartridges and the stores that sell them continues. A leading online cannabis advertising site for illicit THC vapes, Weedmaps, listed now-notorious street brand Dank Vapes for sale as of Oct. Weedmaps officials have said the company will require all listings to include a state license number by the end of 2019. That policy allows illegal, unlicensed stores to remain listed for two more months. Kiloh has seen those listings drop dramatically in recent weeks, “which shows that they’re trying to comply,” he said. Earlier this week Weedmaps announced a layoff of one-quarter of the company’s staff. A Leafly source said the cuts trim costs in anticipation of a dramatic revenue downturn once unlicensed brand and store listings disappear from the site. When reached by Leafly, a Weedmaps official responded to our question about the listing of West Coast Cure products earlier this year by saying anyone can list a store stocked with whatever products they like, due to Weedmaps’ self-publishing business model. Similar to Twitter, Weedmaps now includes a blue check mark on “verified” listings. Weedmaps CEO: ‘Deeply concerned’ In an email, Weedmaps CEO Chris Beals described his company as “a self-publishing platform where thousands of brands and retailers publish information on their brands. We are deeply concerned about the health issues surrounding vaping, and counterfeit products are a serious problem in the cannabis industry.” “We identified this issue early, and in 2017 we launched our Weedmaps Brand & Verified Retailer program, which allows brands to verify stores and products to help consumers identify genuine products,” Beals wrote. “Stores can flag their individual products for verification approval by the applicable brand.

This makes us a critically important tool for defending against counterfeit cannabis products.” Many industry leaders remain furious that Weedmaps continues to facilitate street sales, long after the California Bureau of Cannabis Control sent the company a cease-and-desist letter in February 2018. “We thought the transition period was a little longer than necessary for a technology company to remove 2,000 postings from their website,” Kiloh said. “They were told a year and a half ago that they should comply.” “Maybe an extra three months wouldn’t kill anyone,” Kiloh added.

“The problem is, it might.” How to make sure your cannabis store is licensed.

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