The California Attorney General’s office has turned its eyes to smoke shops and hookah lounges in Fresno selling illegal, untested marijuana products.
Attorney General Rob Bonta and Fresno City Attorney Andrew Janz held a joint press conference Tuesday announcing the Cannabis Administrative Prosecutor Program to go after illegal cannabis operations “that have historically targeted children,” Janz said.
Watch: CA Attorney General Announces Crackdown on Illegal Marijuana Sales
Deputy attorneys general will assist Fresno code enforcers in prosecuting illegal marijuana grows and unauthorized cannabis retailers.
“We have made progress today on an important new tool in the toolbox to help address illegal cannabis here in Fresno and it creates a model we can use statewide,” Bonta said.
Despite legalization, black-market cannabis still makes up a majority of sales, Bonta said. Many cannabis products are also sold illegally at hookah lounges, vape shops and other businesses, he said.
Products include chips, candies, and other snacks containing cannabis. Some products found in a San Francisco smoke shop even had a Doritos label, despite not being from the company. Janz estimated as many as a dozen smoke shops sell similar products in Fresno.
“We intend to pursue administrative remedies against illegal, underground operations that have historically targeted children and minors,” Janz said.
Prosecutors Want to Target Land, Business Assets of Underground Operations
Bonta called the sale of illegal cannabis products a “land use issue.” For that, Janz said they will notify property owners about illegal operations going on in businesses leasing space. Investigators will give property owners a chance to get rid of illegal products sold in stores.
In addition to fines, code enforcement teams can also threaten business licenses and seize property such as growing equipment or trucks, Janz said.
Prosecutors from the attorney general’s office will be in Fresno to offer resources to the city attorney’s office. Janz said the CAPP would not cost the city any additional money. Funding for state staff will come from the sale of assets seized during raids.
Fresno’s municipal code allows for the kind of action Bonta and Janz want, Bonta said. Other cities’ codes do not have the power for these programs, Bonta said, adding the program in Fresno could provide a map to prosecute stores selling illegal cannabis products.
‘Regulatory Standards’ Too High for Legal Cannabis: Bonta
Bonta and Janz said the program protects the legal cannabis market by going after underground marijuana businesses that don’t go through the regulation process.
After Fresno voters approved taxing marijuana in 2018, the city council approved applications for 21 retail cannabis stores. Only two have opened.
Earlier this month, Councilman Luis Chavez appealed a proposed location in his district near the Fresno Fairgrounds. He later withdrew his objection. Last week, members of the Pinedale community in north Fresno successfully blocked a cannabis retailer from opening near their neighborhood, saying it was too close to an elementary school.
Bonta said regulations are too strict for the legal market to compete in California.
“The barriers to entry are too high, the cost to stay in operation are too high,” Bonta said. “We should be lowering taxes, at least temporarily.”