Majority of CA Will Not See Recreational Sales Begin by New Year

California Dispensary Cannabis Now

If you want weed sooner, Los Angeles — not San Francisco — is your best bet.


Lest we forget, marijuana legalization is a big deal. The shift from risking prison — a gamble ongoing in most of the United States at this very moment — to paying taxes on government-regulated sales is a tectonic one.

Appropriately, the first day of legal cannabis retail activity in Colorado and Las Vegas was an event. From the first moment pot stores could open for business under state law, crowds lined up outside their doors in the snow in Denver and outside Vegas dispensaries at midnight, as if coveted concert tickets or a particularly trendy brunch were on offer.

The same scenes will almost certainly not be replayed in California. The country’s oldest and largest marijuana market will allow retail marijuana sales to anyone 21 and older beginning on Jan. 1 — provided that the local government allows it.

And in Los Angeles and in San Francisco, municipal leaders and lawmakers have shown no desire to ensure consumers will be able to celebrate the new year with an historic marijuana purchase.

In San Francisco’s case, you’ll be lucky to buy weed without a medical-marijuana recommendation by next summer.

Los Angeles is home to several hundred medical marijuana dispensaries, though the city passed a law four years ago that banned dispensaries outright. About 140 of these dispensary operators have been enjoying “immunity” in the meantime under a voter-approved city law — and they’ll be the first to be able to acquire a permit to sell recreational cannabis. This is right and just.

However, they can’t sell any marijuana if they have none in stock. And under the current proposal before the Los Angeles City Council, cannabis cultivators, producers and manufacturers would have to temporarily shut down and wait “months” to receive a city license.

As the Los Angeles Times reported, “Any marijuana business operating without a city license can be targeted by the police and the city attorney.” Worse than a fine or even a raid, anyone violating this fiat would risk receiving a license.

The local marijuana industry says this requirement is untenable, and is tantamount to being told to close down. And if suppliers close down, retailers will have nothing to sell — or at least nothing after whatever is in stock on Jan. 1 sells out.

“It’s inconceivable how I can shut down my business while waiting for the city to approve my application and also survive,” said edibles manufacturer Cameron Clarke, in comments to the newspaper.

But at least there’s a chance of buying pot in LA in early January. In San Francisco, the city where the concept of over-the-counter marijuana sales was birthed, there’s even less interest to start the recreational cannabis era on time.

San Francisco has about three dozen storefront dispensaries. For a city of 850,000, which sees a daytime population swollen by workers and tourists of more than 1 million, that’s not a lot — that’s the fewest per capita of most any major city with pot stores.

Like in LA, these dispensaries would be first in line to receive a recreational marijuana business license. But they will also be required to undergo a lengthy zoning and land-use review process that could take six to nine months, a city hall source confirmed to Cannabis Now.

And no licenses at all will be approved, for a new business or for those that have been selling medical weed for more than 10 years, until the city creates an equity program, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

Part of what’s taking San Francisco so long is an effort to address the equity question — ensuring the people punished for marijuana during prohibition enjoy economic success under legalization, which is perhaps marijuana’s most profound challenge. There absolutely needs to be government guarantees that people of color, women and the formerly incarcerated can benefit from cannabis, as the free market has demonstrated it is lousy at inclusivity.

San Francisco lawmakers have known for months that this is something they must address. Across the bay in Oakland, a sophisticated set of rules aimed at racial equity was first debated last year. Given that San Francisco is just getting started now, with less than three months to go, it appears the city procrastinated on a major issue.

The City by the Bay has shown time and again that it’s just not that into weed. Last week, a marijuana-infused chocolate maker was rejected for a retail spot at San Francisco’s main shopping mall. If you want to celebrate legalization in California on Day 1, you’re best off planning for a trip to LA — and you might want to be sure you’re in line early if you want to buy anything.

TELL US, where in California do you want to buy your recreational cannabis?

Chris Roberts has written about medical cannabis, drug policy, and legalization ever since spending a few months in Humboldt County in 2009, with bylines for the San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco Examiner, and SF Weekly. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @cbloggy.

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