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Los Angeles Finally Issues First Cannabis Retail Licenses

Conflicts between local and state laws, as well as the legal market’s many accompanying regulations, are causing a number of California cities to delay the rollout of their retail licenses.

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Late last week, Los Angeles officials awarded their first licenses to cannabis retail establishments, beginning the city's transition into the fully legal recreational market. The state legalized full recreational sales as of January 1st, but so far L.A. businesses have been unable to participate in this booming new market.

California awarded its first state recreational licenses back in December, but many individual towns and cities, including L.A., have been taking their time debating and drafting the necessary regulations. This has made the transition into full legal sales difficult for some businesses because the state will not approve any licenses until their local municipality approves them first.

"Anyone in L.A. only has the city license, because the state says that they wouldn't grant us until the city recognized us," David Slocum, owner of Mother Nature's Remedy Caregivers, the city's first new medical license recipient, said to LA Weekly. "Since L.A. was dragging their feet and didn't give anyone a license until yesterday [Jan. 12], the state refused to accept any of us until we got our local license."

L.A. officials are also requiring all of the city's existing medical dispensaries to apply for new licenses, as the state transitions from the lightly-regulated medical marijuana program created in 1996 to the tightly-regulated program established following the passage of Prop. 64 in 2016. The conflict between state and local laws, coupled with the burden of increased regulations, now puts a number of existing canna-businesses at risk of going under.

Los Angeles' retail license rollout has also been delayed by debates over the specific kinds of licenses that will be allowed. City officials originally considered offering businesses "limited immunity" rather than official licenses, which would have put these companies in a vulnerable legal position, requiring them to constantly work to prove the legitimacy of their operations to the city. A coalition of organizations, including local unions and industry activists, rallied against the city's limited immunity proposal, and city officials eventually agreed to issue proper licenses to canna-businesses.

Los Angeles officials didn't even begin to accept applications for licenses until January 3rd, and many of these applications are expected to take three to four weeks to approve. However, the city was able to push two of these applications through last week: a medical license for Mother Nature's, and a recreational license for WHTC in Studio City.

WHTC's manager Jackie (who did not disclose her full name) told LA Weekly that her business "applied the moment we could apply, which was 10 days ago." The city responded late last week, and WHTC is now awaiting the state's confirmation of their license. "We're hoping to be recreational by Monday at the latest," she said.