Malibu's 99 High Tide Collective this week celebrated being recognized as a cannabis business by Los Angeles County government, which has long been opposed to marijuana dispensaries in areas it oversees.
In June, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors extended its 2011 ban on marijuana businesses until the body can figure out a system of permitting for growers, producers and retailers, ostensibly in time for the January opening of recreational marijuana shops under voter-approved Proposition 64. The county's 88 cities can regulate pot businesses as they see fit, however. The city of L.A. plans to license shops next year.
Malibu is one of a handful of cities that contracts with the county to process its business licenses, municipal authorities said. In 2008, the city approved allowing two dispensaries to exist in town. Among enterprises in those few cities that pay L.A. County government to administer business licenses, 99 High Tide was indeed the first pot shop to obtain such permission through the county, according to a Malibu official who did not want his name used because he's not authorized to speak to the press.
The shop heralded the nod as the first case in which the county has issued a cannabis business license, but that's not the case, officials said. The county still does not issue pot business permits. "It's not an actual L.A. County cannabis business license," an official with the County Office of Cannabis Management who was not authorized to speak to the media said. "We haven't issued any of those."
Joe Nicchitta, head of the county cannabis office, agreed, saying Malibu "city licenses are handled by contract through the county. It very much is not a county license in that we're not authorizing cannabis businesses. You can show up to the county Treasurer and Tax Collector and say you have a business and they'll issue a registration."
Still, if it was just Malibu city business paperwork administered through the county — as officials at the County Office of Cannabis Management describe it — it's not clear why it took so long to obtain. The dispensary, not the first in Malibu, according to councilman Jefferson "Zuma Jay" Wagner, opened in 2015.
A spokeswoman for 99 High Tide Collective owner Yvonne DeLaRosa Green suggested the hold-up was a result of the county's reluctance to recognize a marijuana enterprise. "I applied for an L.A. County business license," Green says. "At first they were like, 'We're not giving those out.' It took us 2½ years to get it. I'm so grateful."
She says she got into the marijuana retail business, first in Venice, because her mom developed a now-remedied case of breast cancer and she felt L.A.'s pot shops were too gritty and foreboding to bring her pot shopping. 99 High Tide, which opened with Tommy Chong as its first customer, is a high-end retailer befitting its seaside environment.
"It's a beautiful, spa-like retreat across from the ocean," Green, a television actor, says. "It's upscale but accessible to everyone."
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More important, with her government paperwork in order, Green, who's Latina, is realizing a dream of many supporters of cannabis legalization — that people of color will become marijuana entrepreneurs instead of disproportionately arrested drug suspects.
"I think it's an epic, historic moment not just for me but for L.A.," she says.