Sacramento may be California’s seat of government (and barring some unforeseen upheaval since this went to press, it still is), but L.A. is poised to be the state’s legal cannabis capital in the not-so-distant future. In that spirit, Los Angeles County recently issued its first cannabis business license under the new marijuana program to Yvonne DeLaRosa Green, owner of 99 High Tide Collective dispensary in Malibu. You might be likening that license to a starting pistol signaling the commencement of the race, a stampede of business licenses to follow.
That’s not how reality is rolling out, however.
Ganjapreneurs in the city bemoan lack of clear licensure blueprint
The thorny issue of regulations at county versus city levels is one of budding bafflement. If you’re the owner of an active dispensary in the city of Los Angeles, you may have heard that you will need to shutter your facility until you are granted a 2018 license that reflects the new regs. At this point that report hasn’t been confirmed or denied, which of course makes for uneasy businesspeople.
Green’s licensing victory is thanks in part to a municipal decision made when “the ’Bu” was incorporated into a city in 1991: entrusting business licensing to the county instead of assuming those matters for itself. (Malibu is one of three L.A. County cities in this arrangement.)
As Green explained to Forbes: “Once I got my permit in Malibu, I had to explain to the county that they had to provide my business license. They had to create the first license. I am the only person to have an LA County business license for cannabis.”
In a statement, the mayor’s office in Malibu said: “The City of Malibu’s Municipal Code allows for two medical marijuana dispensaries to operate within City limits. Two medical marijuana dispensaries have been in operation in the City for several years. Los Angeles County issues business licenses on behalf of the City of Malibu, and approved a business license for one of the two existing medical marijuana dispensaries today.”
Cannabis banned in unincorporated areas of county
At the present time, cannabis is prohibited in Los Angeles County, which lends an air of miraculousness to the license Green holds. Last June the County Board of Supervisors voted to ban cannabis (medical and otherwise) in unincorporated areas of the county. Medical dispensaries in those regions had already been prohibited since 2010, but this year’s vote expands the ban to encompass all commercial marijuana activities (i.e., distribution, manufacture, cultivation).
According to Joseph Nicchitta, the county coordinator for the Office of Marijuana Management, state law requires cannabis businesses to be dually licensed, at both the state and local levels. And making local-state navigation trickier and more uncertain is the fact that California state law allows local government the latitude to ban cannabis businesses if it so chooses. After all, federal law still prohibits any and all marijuana use.
“It can be a little confusing and there are lots of other cities that are already moving forward. LA County though is prohibiting all businesses in the unincorporated areas,” Nicchitta told Forbes. “You can be driving through the city of Los Angeles and drive through an unincorporated area. The color of the trash cans will tip you off.”
Dispensary owner: “We’re very fortunate…”
Green, an actor whose résumé credits include television appearances on several programs (but perhaps none that mirror real life so much as Weeds), isn’t new to the medical cannabis world. At the time her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer several years ago, Green was so underwhelmed with dispensary options available to them that she started her own, 99 High Art Collective in Venice Beach. Part art gallery and part medical cannabis dispensary, it closed in 2012. She opened 99 High Tide Collective in Malibu in 2015, and since then it has gained national attention, earning a spot on Rolling Stone’s list of best cannabis dispensaries.
Green doesn’t lose sight of the fact that although she spent more than two years working to emerge from a heap of licensing red tape, her success isn’t solely due to her hard work and persistence. “We’re very fortunate that Malibu is its own city and not under the LA regulations,” she said.
Although the license is good news for Green and her business, it will likely provoke confused outrage in ganjapreneurs in the city of L.A. who are currently denied similar licensure under 2018 regulations. One spin on Green’s license is that it recognizes her business as the first dispensary to pay taxes to Los Angeles County. Whichever way it’s parsed, though, regulators seem to be on the same page when it comes to 99 High Tide Collective being ready for cannabis’s 2018 adult use market.
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