Five unlicensed marijuana dispensaries in San Diego County were served search warrants at the end of July by local law enforcement which resulted in six arrests and seizures totaling $1.1 million and 3,000 pounds of cannabis.

San Diego County Sheriff’s Department carried out the raids on the illegal cannabis shops in the Lakeside, Chula Vista, and Spring Valley suburbs. Officers also served searched warrants at residences in San Diego and Jamul, as well as a warehouse in Spring Valley as part of the same operation.

Sergeant Zheath Sanchez said the sheriff’s department sought the search warrants on the basis of “numerous community complaints related to unlicensed and illegal dispensaries, some located in residential neighborhoods and near local schools.”

As well as seizing more than a million dollars in cash and 1.5 tons of marijuana, officers also found cannabis edibles and concentrates, mushrooms thought to be psilocybin, and a stockpile of 20 firearms, of which three are semi-automatic rifles.

The six arrested include a 34 year old man from Jamul and a 28 year old man from Michigan on suspicion of conspiracy and running an illicit drug operation; a 23 year old San Diegan man for allegedly possessing a firearm as a felon; a 23 year old Chula Vista woman and a 22 year old San Diegan woman for alleged marijuana possession with intent to sell, with the former woman also charged with possession of brass knuckles.

Raids such as these are still a familiar sight throughout the state in spite of California legalizing recreational marijuana with the voter-approved passage of Prop 64 in 2016. Last year, Gov. Gavin Newsom deployed the National Guard to public wildlands to root out illegal marijuana farms. More than two years after legal adult-use marijuana went on sale in California, the illicit market is still thriving with unlicensed sales thought to be worth more than double those made in the licensed market, according to research by BDS Analystics and Arcview Market Research.

“Despite some success during the first two years of legalized cannabis sales, the illicit market has flourished,” Democratic Assemblywoman Blanca Rubio recently said. “In addition to dwindling tax revenues, the underground market presents public safety and health threats to California.”

The United Cannabis Business Association, an industry body representing many licensed marijuana businesses, pressured Rubio to act and in response, she brought forward a bill that would result in heavy fines for landlords, advertising platforms such as Weedmaps, or any other business that provides services or support to illicit marijuana operators.

“The illicit cannabis market must be shut down to ensure that legal operators can see an increase of patients and consumers which creates union jobs while we contribute to local and the State of California’s tax revenues,” the trade group wrote in a letter to state lawmakers.

Ellen Komp, deputy director of NORML California, takes a different view. She thinks the California’s legal marijuana businesses would be better served by helping more people enter the legal market rather than cracking down on illicit operators.

“In general we would rather see ‘carrots’ to assist people in securing commercial licenses by lowering the barriers to entry, rather than ‘sticks,’ be they criminal or civil,” Komp said.

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