The LA Times has reported that California’s first state-issued marijuana licenses take effect for sales to recreational users in January 2018. But most Californians won’t see pot shops in their neighborhoods soon, and some may never see them.
To sell marijuana in California, retailers have to be licensed by the state, but they first must have the approval of the city or county where they plan to do business. Cities and counties can opt out of allowing commercial cannabis sales and most have — for now.
Last week, Los Angeles approved rules that allow retailers to sell recreational marijuana next month, joining other major cities that have done so, including San Francisco, San Diego, Oakland and San Jose. But recreational pot sales won’t be allowed in dozens more cities, including Riverside, Fresno, Bakersfield, Pasadena and Anaheim. In some cases, cities have decided to revisit the issue later in 2018 after they see how the new system works.
“It’s going to be months, maybe even a year before a majority of the state has access that is less than a half-hour drive away,” said Nate Bradley, a representative of the California Cannabis Industry Assn. He estimated that only about a third of the state will initially allow the sale of pot for recreational use.
The delay disappoints supporters of Proposition 64, an initiative approved by 57% of California voters last year that requires the state to begin issuing licenses to sell recreational marijuana at the start of the new year. The Legislature also approved state-licensed medical marijuana sales starting January 1 — for two decades it was legal under state law but regulated by local governments.
“The majority of governments in less urban areas have chosen to ban the cannabis business entirely, leaving a cannabis desert in large swaths of the eastern state, Inland Empire and Central Valley,” said Ellen Komp, deputy director of the pro-marijuana group California NORML. “It’s a shame most of California won’t be able to capitalize on the … tourist trade as other states have.”
She predicted the transition to licensing sellers and growers “will be a lengthy process extending over a couple of years.”
The November 2016 initiative immediately allowed Californians who are 21 and older to:
- Possess and transport up to an ounce of marijuana for use for recreational purposes
- Grow up to six plants for personal use.
Seven other states and the District of Columbia have also decided to fully legalize marijuana.
Marijuana remains illegal under federal law, but the U.S. Department of Justice has issued policy guidelines to its prosecutors that have allowed regulated sales to take place. U.S. Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions has made comments about potentially enforcing federal law, but has not yet taken action.
Komp and others are hopeful that cities banning cannabis sales will eventually open their doors to the trade when officials see the benefits received by California’s big cities, including a flood of tax revenue and replacement of black market sales with regulated commerce.
The more than 1,300 marijuana dispensaries that now legally sell marijuana for medical use will be able to quickly get state licenses to continue medicinal sales starting Jan. 1, said Lori Ajax, director of the state Bureau of Cannabis Control.
Annual Marijuana licenses will require:
- A background check
- $1,000 application fee
- The state will also monitor all marijuana products from farm to counter through a track-and-trace system
To prevent those costs from putting legal marijuana sales out of reach to new retailers, the new state agency has decided to initially issue temporary permits that are good for four months and do not require application fees or background checks. Ajax’s office began accepting applications for temporary licenses on Dec. 8, and is issuing licenses this month that will be effective on Jan. 1.
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