SHERMAN OAKS, Calif. – Cannabis trade group United Cannabis Business Association (UCBA) yesterday posted an open letter addressed to California Governor Gavin Newsom and California Cannabis Bureau Chief Lori Ajax, “requesting the state of California moves to enforce laws that are already on the books to finally curb Weedmaps’ advertisement of unlicensed retailers in the here and now.”
The trade group also requested that state regulatory officials invoke Assembly Bill 97, and impose maximum fines on cannabis online portal Weedmaps, retroactively and for every day that unlicensed businesses appear on the platform. They estimated that 75 percent of the businesses on Weedmaps are unlicensed.
AB 97, which came into effect in July, allows state regulators to charge fines in the amount of up to $30,000 a day per violation, per unlicensed operator.
UCBA said in the letter that an audit conducted this week showed 2,835 potentially unlicensed cannabis businesses still listed on the Weedmaps platform, while businesses that appeared to be licensed numbered only 922.
Weedmaps on August 22 announced that it would no longer host pages for unlicensed businesses. The action was promoted as an effort to combat the illicit market in California, which some experts speculated was three times the size of the state’s legal cannabis industry. At the time, Weedmaps also committed to an initiative to help mentor unlicensed cannabis businesses and find a path to licensing for program participants.
Tax revenue generated by California recreational sales—the biggest state market—has also failed to meet expectations. Licensed vendors point to competition from illegal businesses as the cause for lower legal sales.
“The unlicensed operators on Weedmaps do not pay taxes or the cost of compliance with local and state regulations, do not follow required worker or consumer protections, and do not allow labor unions to organize workers, in turn allowing them to charge a fraction of the cost,” the UCBA letter stated.
The trade association also highlighted the recent incidents of respiratory lung damage related to vaping, which has affected nearly 500 patients in 33 states, with six fatalities attributed to the mysterious condition.
“This outbreak serves as a tragic reminder of the dangers that the unlicensed industry poses to consumers. Licensed retailers are required to adhere to strict testing mandates that help prevent incidents like this from happening—the reality is, unless you are buying from a legal dispensary there is no guarantee of safety,” the letter read.
The trade association pointed out that out of fifty-seven cases of the respiratory condition “so far in California,” all involved purchases from unlicensed “pop-up” shops. UCBA did not cite the source of its information.
Federal investigators and state public health officials have been focused on a thickening agent, Vitamin E acetate, as a possible culprit involved in the vaping-related condition. Also called tocopheryl acetate, the compound is apparently often used in illegal cannabis vape products, especially vape cartridges.
Public health officials in Los Angeles on Friday said that no one substance, product, or device could be singled out as investigations were still active. Many of those affected with the condition told doctors they vaped both nicotine and THC-infused products.
A UCBA spokesperson was unavailable at the time of this post.