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US (CA): State launches probe of cannabis licensing to ‘clean house’ of corruption

Corruption in California’s cannabis industry has become widespread and brazen. There have been pay-to-play schemes, including a demand for cash in a brown paper bag for a pot license, threats of violence against local officials, and city council members accepting money from cannabis businesses even as they regulated them.

Those problems and more were uncovered by a sweeping Los Angeles Times investigation last year. Now state officials are launching an audit aimed at curtailing bribery, conflicts of interest, and other misdeeds.

The inquiry, requested by Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer, D-Los Angeles, and authorized Wednesday by the state Joint Legislative Audit Committee, comes more than six years after California voters approved Proposition 64, the ballot measure that legalized recreational cannabis and unleashed a wave of corruption that has afflicted local governments in rural Northern California enclaves and towns like Calexico near the Mexican border.

Other state lawmakers have proposed hearings and reforms following The Times’ “Legal Weed, Broken Promises” investigative series, which also highlighted the failures of public officials to root out the illegal cannabis market and protect the workers toiling and dying on farms. State auditors plan to identify six jurisdictions with licensed cannabis businesses and review criteria used to approve the permits, reviewing local governments that have been rocked by corruption allegations and others that appear to have fewer such problems.


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