When Proposition 64 made adult use cannabis sales legal throughout California, officials were expecting to see the state's thriving pot black market become a relic of the past. Unfortunately, the exact opposite has occurred, and authorities and industry insiders are now reporting that black market dealers are actually outselling licensed pot establishments.
While Prop. 64 set forth commercial cannabis regulation, it also gave individual municipal governments the power to “opt out” of allowing legal weed shops to open on their turf. Roughly 80 percent of all California municipalities have chosen to do so. As of last March, 40 percent of the state's territory was a “pot desert,” with the nearest legal pot store 60 to 120 miles away from these areas. The tediousness of making an hour-plus drive to buy weed, coupled with the lower prices of illegally-grown grass, has kept black market dealers in business.
California lawmakers have drafted a new bill that will hopefully solve this problem. Assembly Bill 1356 would create at least 2,200 new legal pot stores throughout the state, more than tripling the number of pot stores that are currently open. The bill would force any municipality where a majority of voters approved Prop. 64 to license at least one dispensary for every four liquor stores, or for every 10,000 residents, whichever is fewer.
"It's unfortunate that the cities and the counties really haven’t fulfilled the will of the voters to provide legal access under Proposition 64," Assemblyman Phil Ting, author of the measure, told the Los Angeles Times.
An analysis by Ting's office found that there are 255 municipalities and 21 counties that ban legal pot retailers, even though a majority of the residents of these jurisdictions voted in favor of Prop. 64.
AB 1356 is not without its opponents, however. "I think it's ridiculous and I think it's an overreach," Burbank Mayor Emily Gabel-Luddy told the Times. "The bill is an example of Sacramento deciding what should happen at the local level, and it's just wrong."
If it passes, Burbank – which currently opts out of legal weed sales – would be forced to license at least 10 new pot stores, based on its population of 104,000.
The bill narrowly passed the Assembly Business and Professions Committee last month after facing strong bipartisan opposition. Democratic Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva argued that “AB 1356 eliminates local control over the locations of marijuana shops in areas where the voters were closely divided. Local governments and communities should determine whether or not dispensaries should be operated in their city, and not... the state."
The bill must still pass one more committee before it can come up before the full Assembly for a vote. Ting said he is hopeful that the bill will eventually make it to Governor Gavin Newsom's desk to be signed into law, but the governor has not publicly indicated whether or not he supports the legislation.