Captain Steve Carmona and Lieutenant Stacy Spell from the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) Gang and Narcotics Division, made the shocking revelation after William Hague’s bid to “end the war on drugs” and legalise cannabis for medical use in the UK.
They advised cops in the UK to prepare for an increase in organised crime around cannabis – and for a surge in drug-driving – should the drug ever be legalised here.
Stores must be licensed to sell the drug, with around 150 dispensaries in the area selling everything from cannabis vape pens and pre-rolled joints to marijuana-laced cookies, sweets and drinks.
But there are hundreds of illegal cannabis stores where customers can buy the drug at cheaper prices than at the heavily regulated and taxed legal dispensaries.
California regulators sent out almost 1,000 cease and desist letters to marijuana businesses they suspected were illegal in April alone.
Lt Spell, who oversees the division’s cannabis unit, said there had been much more “illicit activity” in the past few months.
And he said one of the biggest falsehoods about legalising marijuana is that it will curb illegal activities.
He told Sun Online: “Here in Los Angeles we see a large number of illegal retail stores.
“But we also come across a lot of illegal grows – places where people are growing the cannabis.
“And oftentimes it’s to export out of state into places where it’s still illegal because the marijuana that might cost, let’s say $3,000-a-pound here, may cost as much as $4,000- to $6,000-a-pound somewhere else.
“So there’s a huge uptick and profit in engaging in illegal activity. It’s a very lucrative business with very little overhead and there’s increased numbers of sales.
“Probably one of the biggest fallacies about the regulation or the legalisation of recreational marijuana is that the illegal activities will go away when in fact, when you look at all of the states – and we’ve done comparative analysis with other places – all of the places that have allowed recreational marijuana, have seen increases in the illegal activities.
“Los Angeles has been consistent with all of those other places – we’ve seen the same thing.”
He explained the increase is due to criminals using legal operations as a “cover” for illegal activities.
Lt Spell continued: “For example, in the state of California, every individual is allowed to grow up to six plants in their household – and if they have medical needs then they can even grow more.
“But when a person can grow that marijuana legally, it’s really easy to get away with it illegally because the next door neighbour is not going to call in and complain.
“Because they figure ‘I know that they can have some plants’, maybe they don’t know that they can only have six rather 100.
“And those folks that are growing it, whether in their backyards or in their garages, they’re making a lot of money off of it and often they’re doing it illegally.
“Oftentimes, there’s still criminal interest in this because there’s the money behind it and very little consequence for the violation.”
Many illegal cannabis operations in the Los Angeles area involve gangs and Lt Spell and Ct Carmona advised police in the UK to prepare for an influx of organised crime related to the drug – should cannabis ever be legalised in the UK.
The debate over legalisation was reignited last month after 12-year-old Billy Caldwellhad his cannabis oil for life-threatening epilepsy confiscated at Heathrow Airport.
Parliament later intervened and allowed him to receive medical cannabis oil, which helps control and reduce the frequency of his seizures – and are currently reviewing marijuana for medicinal use.
Lt Spell said he would encourage British police to get involved in any legalisation process early on so they can speak about the dangers and make sure any legislation is “smartly designed”.
He added: “One thing to be prepared for – and understand – is that there is going to be an interest from organised crime and from other criminals, from people who are not going to go through the licensing processes and who are going to engage in illegal activity.
“The other thing they should expect is that they’re probably going to see increases in driving under the influence of drugs.
“Currently that’s a challenge to try to identify whether or not somebody is under the influence or whether they’re impaired to drive because THC is not measured the same way as alcohol is.
“So instead of it being excreted through your system and within a couple of hours, it actually stays in your system for days, if not weeks.
“So while there are tests that will measure THC in the system they don’t prove whether someone is impaired to drive or not.
“I think getting ahead of that and knowing that it’s going to be a challenge dealing with folks who are driving under the influence.”