Every L.A. Dispensary Could Be Illegal by 2018

City law needs to harmonize with state law.

It’s not difficult to find weed in Los Angeles. In 2014, an artist set out to capture the smells representative of the city's myriad neighborhoods for a display at the Santa Monica Museum of Art. Naturally, weed landed on his list. Bud is big in L.A. 

The state of California, where medical marijuana has been legal since voters approved the Compassionate Use Act in 1996, has historically been at the center of the weed world. But according to an editorial published earlier this week in the Los Angeles Times, if L.A. doesn't change its existing rules, all medicinal pot shops within the city's boundaries will be illegal in 2018.

From theTimes

California's strict licensing regime won't apply to the state's largest city…Under the state's new Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act (MMRS), California would, for the first time, issue licenses to medical cannabis businesses. But the state will only grant them to businesses with permits from their local jurisdictions. Because L.A. doesn't issue permits—growers, testing labs and dispensaries in L.A. won't be eligible for state licenses.

The Times urges mayor Eric Garretti and the city of L.A. to take an active role in leading the charge on this change, lest the influence and policy-shaping should fall in the hands of the weed industry. “The City Council should not let marijuana businesses set city policy,” writes the Times editorial board. “L.A. leaders need to come up with their own permitting and regulatory scheme, setting reasonable rules and reasonable limits on where and how pot businesses can operate.”

The paper is citing an initiative that the Greater Los Angeles Collective Alliance (GLACA)—a group representing a number of L.A.s marijuana businesses—reportedly plans to file. The initiative would require the city to grant licenses to dispensaries and delivery services, while offering regulatory guidance on cultivation and processing within its limits. 

“We want to open the city law to state law,” GLACA founder and president, Yami Bolanos told LA Weekly

Los Angeles acknowledges the dilemma. From a December 2015 City Attorney’s office memo

“Because Proposition D, as currently written, does not provide for the issuance of permits or other authorization by the City of Los Angeles, medical marijuana businesses in the city will not be able to obtain a state license and, therefore, will not be able to comply with the Act.”

Proposition D was intended to establish some level of legitimacy for no more than 135 “medical marijuana businesses that have been in operation since 2007.” An ongoing UCLA study found the number of dispensaries operating in Los Angeles to have grown to more than 550 by 2011. A simple search on Weedmaps' dispensary locator yielded results seemingly in line with the UCLA findings. But not all dispensaries in the city are indexed on Weedmaps, which is like Yelp for weed businesses: Registering an account with the platform costs money.

Though they’re technically not legal, delivery services in Los Angeles operate in a gray area of tolerance from the city. 

Chris Rowe, an L.A. entrepreneur with experience working in the cannabis industry at trade shows and as a retailer of functional glass, had plans to open a delivery-only dispensary in fall 2015. He told The KIND that the passing of MMRS completely derailed his plans. His business would be illegal in 2018.

"My plans and potential investors dissipated when Jerry Brown signed the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act," Rowe says. "The monetary cost of these licenses has yet-to-be-determined, and could potentially be a barrier to small businesses that are just now looking to enter the industry." 

On January 14, an ordinance approved by Los Angeles City Council called for the city to halt issuing tax registration certificates for “any medical marijuana collective business activity.” Councilman Joe Buscaino told Los Angeles Daily News  this ordinance “finally puts an end to the issuance of business tax licenses to illegal pot shops in the city of L.A.”

Which means the next two years will be crucial in how Los Angeles handles the future of legal weed in the city where you can smell it on almost every street corner.