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California AG announces new program targeting illegal cannabis operations

One of the aims of the program is to boost the legal cannabis market.

FRESNO, Calif. (CN) — A new program connecting the California Attorney General’s Office with local jurisdictions seeks to stop illegal cannabis activity by hitting perpetrators in their pocketbooks.

Attorney General Rob Bonta on Tuesday announced the Cannabis Administrative Prosecutor Program (CAPP), which he said will provide local governments with state support as they work toward fighting illegal cannabis as a public nuisance and land-use issue.

“That’s what our shared constituents expect of us — to team up,” Bonta said.

Flanked by Fresno City Attorney Andrew Janz, Bonta said illegal cannabis is problematic for many reasons. Some producers use highly toxic chemicals, others litter forests with industry materials, and workers are sometimes trafficked and exploited.

The program will offer resources and education for enforcement programs, as well as evidence collection that could be used in large, statewide prosecutions.

Fresno is the first locality to join the program, and it will combat illegal cannabis through citations, violation notices and orders to stop the prohibited activities. Illegal operators who refuse to shut down on their own will face the eradication of their unlicensed grows and a shutdown of their retail and manufacturing activities. Additionally, city officials will seek to recover enforcement costs.

The program is expected to fund itself. The state's Department of Justice, working with Fresno, plans to recover costs through fines, administrative orders, settlements, enforcement actions and liens. Fresno will keep any money brought in that exceeds the program’s cost.

This collective effort will supplement criminal and civil action taken by the Department of Cannabis Control and the governor’s Unified Cannabis Enforcement Task Force, according to a news release..

“Our partnership is aimed at assisting the local legitimate cannabis industry and help grow Fresno’s tax base," Janz said in the release. "It is my hope that this first-of-a-kind joint venture between the Fresno city attorneys and the Office of the Attorney General will be a model for other large cities. For far too long, these underground operations have targeted children and minors without fear of retribution. This inventive new approach will seek to put an end to that.”

Janz said he’s looking at illegal hookah lounges, as well as illegal smoke and tobacco shops.

“Yes, we are targeting these folks,” Janz said.

“We’re ready today,” he added. “We want to start immediately.”

The state DOJ, through its Cannabis Control Section, will support Fresno by providing attorneys who will serve as administrative prosecutors and stand before local administrative hearing bodies or officers, helping with the creation of processes to expedite enforcement.

The DOJ will also help with investigative services through the Eradication and Prevention of Illicit Cannabis (EPIC) program. The program centers on the investigation and prosecution of illegal cannabis cultivation, focusing on economic and environmental harms, as well as labor exploitation. Previously a seasonal program, EPIC began operating year-round in 2022.

The Cannabis Administrative Prosecutor Program will also do administrative work required to provide notices and help with private process servers, code compliance officers and abatement contractors, as needed.

The underground cannabis market, which larger than the legal market, hurts those who choose to operate legally, Bonta said. Janz said it’s like the illegal market has taken a bat to the legal market’s bottom line, which in turn hurts the city's coffers.

“We’re at the beginning of making the legal cannabis marketplace successful,” Bonta said.

Categories / Economy, Government, Regional

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