VAN NUYS, Calif. – A team of Los Angeles Police Department officers armed with weapons and ballistic helmets moved in on The Dub Club marijuana dispensary on Van Nuys Boulevard Friday morning.
They quickly cleared the scene inside and put a suspect, who was about to open the illegal shop, into handcuffs.
“He’s being arrested for maintaining a place where narcotics are sold," said Lt. Orlando Moreno, who leads the LAPD Gang Impact Team and is a 30-year veteran of the police force.
Moreno's team specializes in gangs and narcotics enforcement. They raid unlicensed marijuana shops like The Dub Club almost every week.
“We’re very busy with these marijuana locations," said Moreno. "Citywide it’s a big concern and we see them quite frequently."
The products found inside The Dub Club include illicit, black market vapes like “Exotic Carts,” counterfeits of regulated cannabis brands, and recalled edibles. During these raids, police generally find a safe, sometimes a very large safe, where more drugs and cash are stored.
“That’s the key to why these open. The business is very lucrative," said Moreno.
Sales records police find in the store show nearly $17,000 taken in on a single day. In the first three weeks of November alone, the records indicated sales of more than $65,000.
“Money is a big component and there’s a big demand. Even as we were serving the search warrant several customers came here and we told them it’s no longer in business," Moreno said.
All of the products are seized as evidence during the raid, which includes pounds of loose flower dumped into trash bags, in addition to the illicit vaping products and edibles.
“None of this stuff is tested, permitted, we have no idea where it's coming from. There could be pesticides on here or fungus," said one of the undercover detectives who we cannot name.
A licensed dispensary is required to have its products tested by a lab. Legal dispensaries face state as well as city regulations and are required to pay taxes.
A recent audit found that more than 2,800 unlicensed dispensaries operate throughout California compared to less than 900 licensed sellers. A lot of people choose unregulated shops because it is cheaper.
“People should know that when they come to a place like this, they really don't know the product they're getting," Moreno said. "Some of the product comes from illegal grows where a lot of the mold and chemicals that are not checked are part of the process. So they're really ingesting something that could be harmful to their health."
Unlicensed dispensaries are also not hard to find. In fact, Spectrum News 1 was able to quickly locate the Dub Club on Weedmaps, a site similar to Yelp that allows users to review cannabis dispensaries and products.
Juanjo Feijoo, the chief marketing officer at Weedmaps, says the site is undergoing a massive change.
“We’re transitioning the platform to only have licensed retailers in California," Feijoo said.
By the end of the year, Feijoo says unregulated shops like The Dub Club will disappear from its site.
Feijoo doesn’t believe all unlicensed sellers are bad actors, but he says this change is necessary until the state extends more licenses.
“At the end of the day there is a layer of security that comes with the licensing process and we want to offer that to clients while we continue to lobby for greater access," Feijoo said.
Meanwhile, back at the Dub Club, Moreno’s team has seized multiple trash bags filled with cannabis products and even recovered a dagger. But to make their way into the safe in the back room, LAPD had to bring in a safe detail and bring out some power tools.
When they finally broke into the safe, they found a phone that wouldn't stop ringing, a laptop, more marijuana, and nearly $8,000 in cash.
Spectrum News 1 tried to ask the suspect, 36-year-old Joseph William Son about operating the Dub Club before police took him away for booking.
“I wasn’t doing anything," Son said from the back of the police car.
Despite the successful raid at the Dub Club, Moreno says he wouldn’t be surprised if the dispensary reopened, adding that it usually takes several search warrants to close the shop down permanently.
“It’s a challenge. We work with the DWP and Building and Safety and what we do is turn off the power," Moreno said. "But they’ll turn on generators to keep the power going and re-open."
Still, Moreno’s team and the LAPD at large are determined to stay on top of these locations and continue to bust any joint that doesn’t follow the rules.