Tue, Dec

Pot and Politics in Northeast LA

THE EASTSIDER - It’s always seemed to me that pot shops (or Cannabis Dispensaries) have popped up in Northeast LA without notice, and in areas that the community may or may not be aware of in advance.

Case in point is the Green Earth Collective on York Blvd by Campus Drive.  As in Campus Drive going up to Occidental College. It seemed like it simply popped up one day without any notice to the people nearby. 

It was and is also controversial, in that the kind of folks hanging around the area were pretty rough, ostensibly drawn by the money that is implied in being able to have a pot shop.  Lots of neighborhood complaints, not much done to do anything. 

Finally, in mid-2021, we had a shooting at the facility, with one person dead and another wounded in the altercation.  As the LA Times put it: 

“A man was killed and a security guard was injured after a verbal altercation escalated into gunfire at a marijuana dispensary in Eagle Rock on Thursday afternoon, the Los Angeles Police Department said.

The shooting began when two men got into an argument outside Green Earth Collective in the 4800 block of York Boulevard, around 4:40 p.m., LAPD Officer Jeff Lee said.

The guard “came out to see what was going on,” Lee said, and shots were fired. It was not immediately clear who opened fire first.

The security guard and one of the men outside were taken to a hospital with gunshot wounds.

The security guard, a 30-year-old man who has not been identified, remains in critical but stable condition. The other man, who was described only as being in his 20s, later died from his injuries, Lee said.

The third man was detained after the shooting, Lee said, adding that he could not confirm whether he had been arrested.

Green Earth Collective sells medical and recreational cannabis products, according to its website. Calls to the shop went unanswered Friday morning.” 

Wow! Looks like the community concerns were warranted. 

Now it appears that there is going to be another pot shop, over on York Ave & Toledo, replacing a Pizza Hut. A number of prominent community members, such as long time community activist Gemma Marquez had an interaction with CD 14’s Kevin De Leon’s office over the matter, and it got me thinking.  After being told that the Councilmember could do nothing she said: 

“I appreciate your response! But, words without real action are meaningless! Councilman De Leon needs to speak out and state what is apparent to us all. If the current law does not protect communities from Cannabis businesses, then the law needs to be changed to protect communities. The Councilman's continued silence on this topic speaks volumes on where he stands on this matter.”   

The response referred to was from CD14’s Alice Roth, and went like this: 

“Thank you, Gemma, and thank you, Clara. 

Councilmember De León and our office have found the Department of Cannabis Regulation process to be lacking in many ways, particularly regarding community notification. 

While we as staff must respect the current standards, our planning & policy team has been looking into how we could potentially improve DCR and their process since last year’s deadly shooting outside Green Earth Collective. 

In the meantime, our field team will continue to work with cannabis businesses, DCR, LAPD, and our Senior Lead Officers to do what we can to advocate for best practices from cannabis businesses in NELA.” 

Evidently there is virtually no regulation about pot shops, even if they get put in areas not far from schools, or not that far from all the problems on North Figueroa. Again quoting from Gemma’s back and forth with CD14: 

The Green Earth Collective according to Google Maps is 1.3 miles away and exactly 4 minutes by vehicle from the proposed site on Toledo/York. Also, the Highland Park Lutheran Church per Google Maps is 0.2 away and 1 minute by car and 3 minutes by walking from this proposed site. Is this proposed marijuana dispensary a community necessity?”.

The Bureaucratic BS From the City

It turns out that their is a not so informative document from the City called “Technical Amendments to Cannabis Location Restrictions Fact Sheet”  You can find it here.

Los Angeles City Planning, in cooperation with the Department of Cannabis Regulation, has drafted an ordinance modifying the 2017 location restrictions for commercial cannabis activity. This ordinance includes changes to the way certain sensitive sites are defined as well as to the rules for continued operation of Existing Medical Marijuana Dispensaries.

In 2017, the Los Angeles City Council adopted a regulatory framework for medical and nonmedical commercial cannabis activity, including location restrictions, operating standards, and a process for applying for licenses. The location restrictions identified zones within which commercial cannabis activity is eligible to operate and required businesses to observe specified distances from sensitive sites and, in some cases, from other cannabis businesses. Following the adoption of the regulatory framework, the City Council called for refinements to the location restrictions (Council File 14-0366-S4).

In response, Los Angeles City Planning, in cooperation with the Department of Cannabis Regulation, has prepared the Amendment to Cannabis Location Restrictions, a proposed ordinance that changes the definitions of certain categories of sensitive sites, as well as the rules for continued operation of Existing Medical Marijuana Dispensaries. Subsequent, forthcoming legislation will address other changes requested by the Council, including zone and sensitive use restrictions for on-site consumption of cannabis at licensed retail businesses, temporary cannabis events, and mixed-light

The Takeaway

Don’t get too surprised that I can find no indication that even this wimpy clarification has ever been voted on.  At the same time, cannabis distributors have to list the neighborhood council where they want to locate, but I find nothing to say that they have to talk to the neighborhood council or that the council will be contacted by the City. 

The real issue here is money, of course.  Here’s the latest from the State:

The California Department of Tax and Fee Administration (CDTFA) reported revenue numbers today for cannabis sales for the 1st Quarter of 2021. As of May 18, 2021, California's cannabis excise tax generated $131.9 million in revenue reported on the 1st Quarter 2021 returns and the cultivation tax generated $30.7 million.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, all but the largest taxpayers were given a three-month extension to file their 1st Quarter 2021 tax returns with CDTFA. These returns are now due August 2, 2021. Revisions to 1st Quarter 2021 data will be released in mid-August with the 2nd Quarter 2021 revenue numbers. Additional information on the relief offered due to the COVID-19 pandemic can be found at COVID-19 State of Emergency.

Sales tax from cannabis businesses totaled $82.4 million in revenue for the same period. Sales tax applies to sales of cannabis, cannabis products, and other tangible personal property. Certain retail sales of medicinal cannabis are exempt from sales and use taxes when the purchaser provides, at the time of purchase, a valid Medical Marijuana Identification Card issued by the California Department of Public Health and a valid government-issued identification card.

Total tax revenue reported by the cannabis industry is $245 million for 1st Quarter returns. This does not include tax revenue collected by each jurisdiction. Previously reported revenue for 4th Quarter 2020 returns was revised to $300.9 million, which included $151.7 million in cannabis excise tax, $41.6 million in cultivation tax, and $107.6 million in sales tax. Revisions to quarterly data are the result of amended and late returns, and other tax return adjustments. Cannabis tax revenue data is available on the CDTFA Open Data Portal. 

What the City Council doesn’t understand, or doesn’t care, is there is no guarantee of how much of the tax money will ever flow to LA City. This entire issue is a hot mess, and as usual the City Council appears to be more interested in the upcoming elections than in doing their job to protect their constituents. 

Stay tuned. 


(Tony Butka is an Eastside community activist, who has served on a neighborhood council, has a background in government and is a contributor to CityWatch.)