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Los Angeles County Seizes Illegal Marijuana Worth $1.2 Billion

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Officials in Los Angeles County announced the most recent data for one illegal marijuana seizure operation, the findings of which rank up to $1.2 billion in value.

In a news conference on July 7, Sheriff Alex Villanueva elaborated on the details of a recent seizure conducted by his department. A 10-day operation in the Mojave Desert led to the seizure of 373,000 plants, and 33,480 pounds of illegal marijuana, which the department valued at approximately $1.2 billion.

According to The Associated Press, the location was home to illegal marijuana farms with connections to drug cartels.

Apparently, it was the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s largest operation in its history. The department’s second largest operation included the investigation of 70 greenhouses and the seizure of $50 million in cannabis. Villanueva also noted that last year, the department suspected about 150 illegal grow sites in Antelope Valley, but the number has increased to about 500 as of this year. “There were some people very, very busy during the pandemic,” Villanueva told the Valley Post News.

Many Illegal Marijuana Operations Were Spotted By Air

Representative Mike Garcia, who represents the 25th Congressional District where the seizure took place, spoke about how easy it was to find illegal grows while scouting in a helicopter when he flew out earlier in April this year. “I saw hundreds, if not thousands, of these illegal nurseries throughout our desert being manned by primarily illegal immigrants,” Garcia said.

“Over 90 percent of the folks working these farms are indentured servants of some form. They’re stealing our water, in many cases they’re squatting on our land,” Garcia continued. This poses a major problem to the environment of remote areas, where the use of banned pesticides and harmful chemicals can harm wildlife and taint local water sources. Not to mention the millions of gallons of water being stolen in an already drought-ridden region of the state, which affects local farmers who grow agricultural goods such as alfalfa, potatoes and carrots.

According to Garcia, he first took action because cartel members were reportedly threatening local residents, which led to Garcia’s movement for action. “This isn’t about right vs. left or Republicans vs. Democrat, this is about right vs. wrong and enforcing the law,” he said. “These operations are not legal. The players involved in these operations are putting our constituents and our residents in harms’ way. They’re threatening them on a daily basis.” He said that the amount of cannabis seized in this operation could fill two Sea World orca tanks.

Garcia defended his statement, and clarified that their goal is to target massive illegal operations, not average business people. “I want to be very clear that these are not mom and pop or legal operations that we are fighting,” he said. “These are large-scale illegal operations in many cases being run by several different cartels right here in our backyard.”

This is just one example of illegal drug trafficking running rampant behind the scenes of California’s legal cannabis program. In the end of June, 15,000 plants were seized in San Diego County by local law enforcement, as well as cannabis product valued at approximately $7.5 million. This was done with the help of San Diego Gas & Electric and the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.

“San Diego County’s Code Enforcement, investigators from the California Water Board, and San Diego Gas & Electric also assisted in today’s operation. They discovered numerous violations creating a dangerous situation, as well as environmental-related crimes happening on the property due to the illegal cultivation. It is not uncommon for investigators to find dangerous chemicals, illegal pesticides and other hazardous materials used at unlicensed marijuana grow sites,” the department stated in a press release. “These dangerous materials may enter the local ground water supply and streams, creating extreme environmental hazards.”



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Harborside Under New Management, Announcement Reads

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One of California’s oldest dispensary chains is now under new management. Harborside Inc. (CSE: HBOR), (OTCQX: HBORF) announced in a press release on July 19 that Peter Bilodeau has been asked to step down from his role as Interim Chief Executive Officer effective immediately, and Matt Hawkins, Chairman, will assume the position of Interim CEO while the Company completes its search for a successor. 

In the same announcement, the company stated that Ahmer Iqbal, former CEO of Sublime, has been appointed Chief Operating Officer of Harborside.

“Since implementing our turnaround plan in November of last year, our team and the entire board of directors have worked to ensure that Harborside has a strong foundation to take on the immense opportunity ahead in the California cannabis market,” said Matt Hawkins, Chairman, and Interim CEO of Harborside. “While our work is not yet done, we have made great progress in a short period of time, adding an iconic consumer brand to our portfolio, expanding our cultivation capacity, and building a solid balance sheet to support our growth. On behalf of the entire team, I’d like to thank Peter for his contributions during his time with Harborside.”

Harborside Inc. is among the oldest cannabis retailers in California, with three of its major dispensaries in the San Francisco Bay Area, a dispensary in the Palm Springs area equipped with a cannabis drive-thru window, a dispensary in Oregon and a cultivation/production facility in Salinas, California. 

The company also distributes an impressive portfolio of brands, including Sublime, Harborside and Key—not to mention over 500 dispensaries within California. In 2006, Harborside was awarded one of the first six medical cannabis licenses granted in the United States.

Ahmer Iqbal, Chief Operating Officer, added, “Since joining the team, I’ve been impressed with both the quality of operations and scale of the operations. Harborside has tremendous untapped potential and I’m extremely excited about the Board’s vision to expand our California operations. I look forward to working collaboratively with our management team, board and future CEO, to leverage the company’s strong retail and consumer brand positioning, and continue to build Harborside’s reputation as the preeminent California focused cannabis company.”

Harborside History

Harborside has been around since the early “Wild West” days of medical cannabis in California, under Proposition 215. However, even the large companies encounter their fair share of changes in this volatile industry.

After on-and-off battles with the federal government, Harborside officials scored a major victory back in 2016. Federal prosecutors finally dropped their attempt to seize property from the Harborside Health Center in Oakland, California. Former U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag served Harborside with a lawsuit and civil forfeiture notices, but after four years of fighting, Harborside prevailed in the end.

The brand went public in 2019, and some long-term “legacy” employees didn’t like the cultural shift. Both Steve and Andrew DeAngelo were ousted from company positions in November 2020 in what MJBizDaily called “a hostile takeover of the company.” The brothers formally cut ties with the company earlier this year.

Andrew Angelo opened up to High Times last April about his more recent roles—particularly serving on the Board of Directors and as Chairperson with the Last Prisoner Project. “Right now we are advocating for Michael Thompson serving time in Michigan,” he said. “He’s been in prison close to 26 years now—I was still in my 20s when he was incarcerated.”

Harborside chalked up multiple victories since November, including a stock price on a long, steady climb, rising to $1.71 as of June 21 from $1.44 on November 2, 2020, and multiple acquisition deals. The corporate growth of iconic cannabis companies like Harborside is expected to continue as the United States inches toward federal legalization.



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California Vaccine Pop-up Lures People with Free Weed

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Organizations in Long Beach, California may have finally figured out a creative way to convince reluctant residents to get a COVID-19 vaccination: How does a free joint sound?

To promote equitable distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine and promote safe practices for Long Beach residents, a group of organizations joined forces to launch Joints for Jabs LBC, a one-day-only pop-up vaccine clinic, giving away a free pre-rolled joint to those who take the plunge and get poked. 

According to a press release, local organizations joined the Healthy Long Beach campaign in partnership with the Long Beach Collective Association (LBCA) to legally distribute tokens redeemable for one free pre-rolled joint, good only on one day.

Many other “Joints for Jabs” events took place, including one in Union Square Park in New York City last May. Another program approved by the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board on June 7 gave state-licensed cannabis retailers permission to offer one pre-rolled joint in exchange for a vaccination. In Arizona, a dispensary awarded free edibles to customers who received a vaccine.

Last January, Long Beach Forward launched the Healthy Long Beach campaign using door-to-door and direct outreach to spread awareness about COVID-19 resources and promote equitable vaccination practices. The campaign has reached over 10,000 homes to date.

On Saturday, July 24, the first 150 Long Beach residents 21 and older who get vaccinated at the one-day pop-up clinic at Houghton Park will get the hook-up, while supplies last. Children are welcome to receive the vaccine, minus the joint.

“We all want to have a safe summer and enjoy one another’s company even as the pandemic continues on and recreation opens up,” Long Beach Forward’s executive director, James Suazo, said in a statement. “Cannabis is part of our Long Beach culture, and to safely share a joint without contributing to the spread of COVID-19, we must all do our part to get vaccinated. With the delta variant becoming the dominant COVID-19 strain in Los Angeles County, we want our unvaccinated neighbors to catch a free marijuana strain instead so we can protect each other.”

Distrust with the FDA and medical establishment reigns supreme, which is why the LBCA and other organizations hope that this particular perk may be just enough to change a few minds.

“The LBCA supports public health efforts,” the organization stated. “Cannabis products provide safe access to alternative medicine. Supporting vaccination efforts for our communities falls in line with LBCA stance on promoting healthy living and prevention. The LBCA is excited to be a part of this community campaign. The July 24th Jabs for Joints clinic would not be possible without LBCA Members, Cannafame’s Hesh pre-rolls, VRX Labs, and Flight on Cherry dispensary, thank you.” 

The one-day clinic will take place on Saturday, July 24 from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. at Houghton Park at 6301 Myrtle Ave, Long Beach CA 90805. Vaccinations and #Joints4JabsLBC tokens will be distributed to the first 150 Long Beach residents in attendance while supplies last. Children and young adults ages 12 to 20 can also receive vaccinations but will not be eligible for #Joints4JabsLBC tokens.

Joints for Jabs: THC in the LBC

Long Beach Forward admits that cannabis is part of the city’s culture. Long Beach is ground zero for a distinct musical sound—notably artists like Snoop Dogg, Nate Dogg, Warren G and Sublime. Like the rest of coastal California, it’s also typically very cannabis-friendly, which is why the campaign could actually work.

As of July 6, 56.3 percent of all Long Beach residents—just over half—received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. But that’s far from the collective goal of herd immunity. As seen across California, Long Beach residents ages 18-34 remain as a significant segment of people who are unvaccinated, with only 51.1 percent being vaccinated according to the City of Long Beach COVID-19 Digital Dashboard. 

Adding to the burden, city data also indicate that inequities in vaccinations appear to be defined by zip codes, with 90813, 90805, and 90810 experiencing the lowest vaccination rates between 43 percent to 50 percent, respectively. This could mean that some communities are disadvantaged regarding vaccine resources.

The world’s known COVID-19 death toll surpassed four million earlier this month. And in recent months, it has been dominated by the delta variant. You can still die from COVID-19, especially if you haven’t opted to get the jab.

For more information, visit www.lbforward.org/healthylb.



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California Governor Signs Contentious Cannabis Overhaul Bill1

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California just signed a new law into effect that will consolidate the state’s cannabis programs into one department. 

This was done to help simplify regulatory oversight and make access to licenses more clear and straightforward for those seeking to find them. 

It would consolidate the three agencies that already exist to regulate legal cannabis in the state, which are the Bureau of Cannabis Control, CalCannabis within the Department of Food and Agriculture as well as the Cannabis Manufacturing branch within the Department of Public Health into just one, single agency, the new Department of Cannabis Control.

This bill, Assembly Bill 141, also known as the “governor’s trailer bill,” is being backed by Governor Gavin Newsom. 

This program, if it becomes official, would extend the lifespan of the provisional licensing program to allow provisional permits. These will be able to be renewed until January 1, 2025. It would also allow for trade samples of cannabis products to be shared among businesses, addressing another issue the industry is currently facing. 

“This bill would require the Department of Cannabis Control to provide information on its internet website related to the status of every license issued by the department, including the county of a licensee’s address of record,” the bill language states. “The bill would require, beginning January 1, 2022, this information to include information on suspensions and revocations of licenses and final decisions adopted by the department. The bill would prohibit the sharing of personal identifying information, including home addresses, home telephone numbers, dates of birth, or social security numbers.

“This bill would authorize the Department of Food and Agriculture and the State Department of Public Health to collect fees to cover the reasonable regulatory costs of performing the duties relating to their respective programs and to levy civil penalties, and to deny, suspend, or revoke a registration or certification issued pursuant those programs, for specified violations. The bill would require the penalties or fees collected by the Department of Food and Agriculture to be deposited in the Department of Food and Agriculture Fund and would require the penalties or fees collected by the State Department of Public Health to be deposited in the Food Safety Fund.”

California Cannabis Changes on the Horizon

However, despite the fact that this bill will make a lot of powerful moves, some experts say the measure falls short of what’s needed to make changes that are impactful. Lawmakers who want to see more changes to the bill are going to tackle that project in August.

“The state’s consolidation effort delivers on the commitment made by the Newsom Administration to listen to and work with California’s legal cannabis industry to streamline participation in the legal market by offering a central point of contact for licensed operators,” Lourdes Castro Ramirez, secretary of the Business, Consumer Services and Housing (BCSH) Agency, said in a statement.

“I’m pretty confident it’s going to get addressed,” said Genine Coleman, executive director of the Origins Council, which represents cannabis farmers all over California, regarding the issues the cannabis industry wants to tackle. “The language in the bill…absolutely needs cleanup.”

The Department of Cannabis Control will be housed within the BCSH Agency. It will handle licensing and enforcement functions that were handled in the past by the Bureau of Cannabis Control, CalCannabis within the Department of Food and Agriculture as well as the Cannabis Manufacturing branch within the Department of Public Health.

The DCC will also be in charge of the track-and-trace system, and the California Cannabis Portal is now on the DCC website. It will still serve as the main point of contact and information about cannabis, and will remain live and accessible while the change is taking place. 



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