Officials in Los Angeles say they’ve shut down more than 500 illicit medical marijuana dispensaries over the last two years.

Medical Marijuana DispensaryVoters approved an MMJ law in 2013 that limits the number of legitimate dispensaries to roughly 120. Only shops that were already in business as of 2007 are allowed to operate.

At the time the ordinance passed, there were anywhere from 700 to 2,000 cannabis businesses in the city. The vast majority of them were illegal, and city officials quickly launched an effort to close them.

“People who are really sick, who are suffering with cancer or other serious illnesses ought to have medical marijuana to alleviate their pain,” said City Attorney Mike Feuer. “But there are too many dispensaries. They were too close together; they were too close to schools and sensitive sites.”

Measure D passed to crack down on illicit shops

Measure D, passed in May 2013, allows Feuer’s office and city police to shutter non-compliant businesses and seize their assets. The city started two years ago by warning shops of the coming crackdown, then began levying fines and threatening jail time for offenders.

“We have succeeded in closing more than 500 illegal medical marijuana businesses here in the city of Los Angeles,” Feuer said in April.

Measure D passed by a wide margin after years of mostly unregulated medical marijuana in the city. The initiative was the toughest of three competing ballot measures, and its success was taken as a sign voters were tired of loosely regulated cannabis shops.

First MMJ system in the world

California enacted medical marijuana in 1996 when the state’s voters passed the Compassionate Use Act, the first law of its kind in the world. But critics have long complained that the act failed to set any real rules on MMJ.

Without statewide regulations, local communities have been forced to pick up the legal slack. Hundreds of towns, cities, and counties banned dispensaries outright, while others enacted strict new rules over the past few years. Still others rely solely on state law.

California may legalize in 2016

The issue may soon be moot, however. Californians will likely vote on full recreational legalization next year. If they pass it, the state would probably have a much easier time overseeing MMJ shops.

Smoking MarijuanaObservers give good odds for success, with polls showing most of the state’s voters support legalization of recreational cannabis. Not only would this kind of reform open the door to thousands of people who currently get their cannabis under the table, it would also likely render illegal shops obsolete.

Two previous attempts to legalize in California have failed. The first, in 2010, fell short of a majority vote, while the second fell apart in 2014 after four separate groups each failed to put a reform question on the ballot.

But hopes are high for 2016. That year’s election is expected to draw a large number of young voters who support legalized marijuana, and they could ultimately make cannabis crackdowns like the one in L.A. unnecessary.

state marijuana laws