California Legalizes Cannabis: Legal and Lacking

Medical marijuana stabilized California’s reputation for years. We’ve built up a pretty strong recreational market in the shadows. At 6am on January 1st, marijuana became the sixth state to legalize recreational use. Like alcohol, consumers must be 21 years of age, with ID.

This month legal cannabis becomes available in shops and dispensaries all across the sunny state of California. Or does it?

Some counties are banning the recreational sale of marijuana, while some still don’t have permits for the first legal recreational businesses. California’s legalization of marijuana has been one of the most anticipated legalizations in recent years. But is it going to be a hit right away?

Not Here, It Isn’t

Dozens of counties have prohibited the sale of cannabis altogether. Some counties include Anaheim, Fresno, Riverside, and Bakersfield (Really? That name is so perfect). Most have opted out of the initial wave of recreational legalization. This “wait-and-see” approach to legalization is cautious. It also limits the ability for counties to capitalize on the waves of tourism that will soon flood their sunny, West Coast towns. The varying counties can revisit their ruling later this year. However, many counties won’t see legal establishments in their proximity anytime soon.

Some areas frown on the sale of legal cannabis based on concerns for use by underage consumers. This is especially true for the areas around theme parks and attractions in Anaheim and Burbank.

Most counties are willing to see how the sales progress in more populated areas and reconsider their ordinances regarding the medicinal drug. But until then, there won’t be much opportunity for less populated areas of the state to take advantage of cannabis sales and related tourism. This means that for now, Disneyland is still going to smell like vanilla and churros.

Other major cities with tourist activity have approved the sale of legalized marijuana, places like Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, and Oakland, to name a few. But some of those cities are having problems of their own.

A Little Behind

A permit fiasco stifles the initial expansion predicted by marijuana’s legalization. Temporary permits and licenses solved most problems. The state began allowing applications for these temporary licenses on December 8th. That’s a short window for business to prepare for recreational sales. And the temporary permit only works for so long. They are expected to last until the state can reach a more permanent solution. Many business owners are still eagerly waiting for permits from their respective local governments. They cannot apply for state licenses until local governments give the go-ahead.

Licensure chaos won’t necessarily slow things down for medical dispensaries. Medical dispensaries cannot automatically begin selling recreationally. However, most currently established medical facilities will be able to make a smooth transition to recreational sales. Some new regulations might pose bureaucratic issues, as businesses adapt to the new system. For the most part, however, these establishments will be the first points of contact for cannabis commerce.

Between piles of new applications and navigating new regulations, there is a lot of room to improve how the system handles the influx of interest in the industry. Perhaps we can take some tips by reviewing the phases of recreational states Colorado, Washington, Alaska, Nevada, and Oregon.

L.A. Sunshine

Los Angeles, in particular, is been behind the curve in terms of rules and regulations. So far, 86 of the 88 cities in Los Angeles County do not allow sales for recreational use. This cuts into some of the tourism sales we might have expected from cities like Burbank, Beverly Hills, and Glendale. Some counties may reconsider issues later in the year.

As of now, city leaders seem undecided and unclear on issues like discouraging underage use through packaging/advertisement, encouraging sustainable growing practices, and delivery and social smoking. Social smoking is one of the main reasons for tourism. Who wouldn’t want to spark up some L.A. Sunshine in the L.A. sunshine?

Dealing with the Cannabis Past in LA

Diversity in adult-use sales is also a concern, especially in L.A. The City has the opportunity to look at proposals from the Minority Cannabis Business Association (MCBA). MCBA works to “to create equal access and economic empowerment for cannabis businesses, their patients, and the communities most affected by the war on drugs.” California arrested or incarcerated nearly half a million people on cannabis-related charges in the last ten years alone. The state will need to address the concerns from communities affected by these arrests and incarcerations. It might also be able to support more minority run and founded establishments. In a city as diverse in demographics as Los Angeles, supporting diversity and equal opportunity will be two of the main concerns facing officials.

California officials have the responsibility to communicate with those that they are representing. Including and considering constituent concerns will make the process of legalization, application, and education much easier. But as of yet, those channels of communication have to be opened.

Looking to the Future of Cannabis in California

In states thriving under legal cannabis laws, such as Colorado and Washington, these issues are priorities. California might need to catch up.

For now, you cannot just walk into a medical dispensary with an ID and buy some bud. Unfortunately, we are all waiting for recreational stores to open. For now, it means we can come out of the closet with our home growing operations, and stop worrying about crossing the California state lines with our goodie bags.


Justin Meerkat

Cannabis Entrepreneur & Cofounder | Follow @justinmeerkat on Instagram

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