A dozen California municipalities just chose to opt-in to the state's legal weed industry, paving the way for over 70 new cannabis retail stores.
During last week's midterm election, 18 California municipalities voted on local measures to allow state-licensed cannabis retail shops to open in their jurisdictions. Six localities, including Sacramento County, voted against the measures, but the remaining dozen finally said yes to legal weed. The biggest win was in Los Angeles County, the most populous county in the state. Now that retail sales are approved, regulators can approve up to 25 additional adult-use retail licenses in that county alone.
San Diego County, California's fifth-most populous county, also approved an opt-in measure last week. To date, the county has only approved 5 legal weed businesses to serve its over 3.3 million residents. The new measure will allow at least 20 more dispensaries to open in the county, greatly expanding access. In total, the twelve new opt-ins will allow the state to license at least 70 new legal dispensaries.
Like nearly every other adult-use state, California allows individual municipalities to choose whether or not to allow cannabis businesses on their home turf. Over 80 percent of towns and counties have chosen to opt-out of the industry entirely, leaving a sizable proportion of the state's population without easy access to legal sales. One recent survey reports that nearly 40% of Californians live 60 to 120 miles away from the nearest legal dispensary.
These local bans have created a “pot desert” throughout most of the Golden State, forcing cannabis lovers to either buy bud on the black market or drive hours to find a legal store. This barrier to access and extremely high taxes have helped the state's illicit market regularly outsell its legal competition. And although the new opt-ins will increase access to legal weed, most municipalities also voted to add an additional tax to local sales, pushing prices even higher.
Orange County, another of the state's most populous counties, is one of the state's largest pot deserts. With the notable exception of Santa Ana, there isn't a single legal weed shop in the entire county. Two other Orange County cities — Huntington Beach and Laguna Woods — voted to opt-in to the industry last week. These votes could allow another 11 dispensaries to open in the county. Two more cities also voted to opt-in before this election and are currently working on licensing new weed shops already.
Huntington Beach is also notable because it is one of the only cities along California's 840-mile-long coastline that will allow legal weed shops to open. Many Los Angeles-area beach cities also voted on opt-in measures this year. Still, Hermosa Beach, Redondo Beach, Manhattan Beach, and El Segundo all chose to reject legal cannabis stores. (Boo!)
And while some of the opt-in measures were rejected by conservatives who hate weed, others were rejected for more logical reasons. The Redondo Beach measure, for example, included a provision to recall a local City Council member, forcing voters to divide their support. Other voters rejected local measures because they felt they would grant specific weed businesses a monopolistic advantage in their communities.
“Even though people may have been OK with legal sales, they were not OK with these measures,” explained Hirsh Jain, founder of Los Angeles-based cannabis consultancy firm Ananda Strategy, to MJBizDaily.
Still, the good news is that more legal cannabis shops will open throughout California. Hopefully, this is a trend residents continue to vote in favor of as legal weed laws continue to mature in the state.