Illegal marijuana shops still operating in county, pose health dangers

Posted at 6:35 PM, Oct 31, 2019
and last updated 2019-10-31 21:35:20-04

BAKERSFIELD, CA. — A recent ban on marijuana in the county has shut down legal dispensaries. But that hasn't stopped the local black market from thriving.

Local advocate Jennifer Romandia is pushing for a crackdown in the wake of the vaping health crisis.

"A lot of the vaping issues are with the illegal, knock-off products, where there is no oversight," Romandia said.

The Center for Disease Control said recent vaping related deaths often involved THC -- not nicotine.

Romandia said many of those unregulated and dangerous THC products come straight from shops found throughout the county.

"They look like medicine and products that have been available previously here in the county, because there were licensed dispensaries. There is a lot of confusion," Romandia said.

Law enforcement officials said the Bureau of Cannabis Control takes the lead on regulating those illegal marijuana shops.

Officials said they shut down a local shop on Tuesday and took over $1 million in illegal products.

But advocates said the crackdown is slow moving. That could be due to the bureau's shift in focus.

"Our priority is going to be in those jurisdictional that allow for commercial cannabis activity, because we have to have the backs of the operators who have gone through all the licensing and fees," Bureau of Cannabis Control officials Alex Traverso said.

But Romandia said illegal storefronts still operate in the county. County officials said their main challenges are the lack of resources and the larger area they cover.

Illegal delivery services are found in both the county and city. Those businesses pose an even bigger challenge for regulators.

"It is a lot harder, because you actually have to place an order and then you have to build your case, so that becomes difficult," Traverso said.

Romandia said new legislation requires manufacturers to label all legal and regulated THC cartridges with a cannabis leaf and exclamation point inside a triangle. That universal symbol can also be found on all regulated marijuana products -- so you know it is safe.

All licensed marijuana dispensaries must have their license displayed in a visible area.