Post-legalization, the state has settled into its role as the epicenter of the Green Rush. California is the King of Cannabis — and Los Angeles the Queen of Cannabis
Cannabis occupies a unique position — at no time in history has a consumer product been illegal federally but legal within California’s borders. Nearing the end of its second year of full legalization, cannabis remains the subject of legal, political, academic, medical and family debate; its mere mention elicits emotional reactions.
Nevertheless, California has not looked back since recreational sales began in 2018. Whether plant-touching sectors such as genetics, cultivation, manufacturing, distribution and retail, or non-plant touching technology, real estate, infrastructure, equipment, professional services and media, the Golden State is the global King of Cannabis. And Los Angeles is its queen.
With a population of nearly 40 million and a cannabis consumption-aged population of over 30 million, California accounts for over one of every four dollars spent nationally on the fastest growing consumer product in the world, according to a new BDS Analytics and Arcview Research report. “California: Lessons From the World’s Biggest Cannabis Market” estimates this year’s legal retail take at $3.1 billion, with sales of an estimated 22 million pounds of California weed-related products. This number makes Cali the biggest cannabis retail market on the planet, and four-year estimates are in excess of $7 billion.
Los Angeles’ Department of Cannabis Regulation has devoted considerable efforts to bringing the existing market into the regulatory framework, while DCR executive director Cat Packer has sounded the alarm about exploitation of Angelenos — often from minority communities — applying for licenses.
Though legalization continues in full bloom, thorny issues continue to surround legal cannabis. The end of prohibition and its myriad benefits were undoubtedly great news — indeed, we celebrated it on the cover of L.A. Weekly’s inaugural issue of 2018, our first post-legalization. Yet for many Californians, prohibition is still their reality. Of California’s 482 municipalities, 390 disallow cannabis sales; less than 20 percent of municipalities allow commercial use.
While the legal retail numbers may amaze, the estimated $9 billion in illicit good sales — triple that of legal goods — is staggering and the principal source of vape deaths and illnesses. Illicit activity is hands-down Cali’s biggest “Green Road” pothole, one enhanced both by government inaction and thoughtless action.
The giant bump in the Green Road is an onerous tax and regulatory burden, which furthers the black market and penalizes licensed operators. These taxes can reach 77 percent based upon a $9.75-per-ounce tax on flower, a $2.75-per-ounce tax on trim, a 15 percent excise tax, city and county taxes up to 15 percent, miscellaneous taxes based upon square footage and state sales tax up to 10 percent.
As the Weekly reported earlier this year, social equity programs, while well-intentioned and deserved by victims of the War on Drugs, are viewed by both outsiders and insiders as being rife with issues, delays, uncertainty and unfairness. The most recent L.A. outcry, which threatens an entire round of license issuances, arises out of alleged fraud and improprieties.
California’s path to legal adult use was a long and winding one. Not unlike their forefathers, a new kind of pioneer arose out of a “back to the land” movement to create an agricultural, cultural and knowledge foundation in the ’60s and ’70s to enable a future legal cannabis industry.
Their efforts faced considerable headwinds, with a trillion-dollar federal war on drugs initiated by native son President Nixon supporting state campaigns against planting policies, and which were expanded upon by yet another California original, President Reagan.
A second wave of pioneers, in the form of intrepid and selfless advocates, battled tirelessly for years in search of compassion to end the needless suffering of AIDS patients. On their backs, the historic passage of the 1996 Compassionate Use Act was finally achieved. It provided a quasi-legal framework for the production and possession of cannabis with a “grow your own” or “caregiver model.” California Senate Bill 420 in 2003 went further by authorizing necessary patient protections and collectives.
Those who laid the foundations of today’s Green Rush weren’t outliers — the pioneering spirit is practically in California’s DNA. Since John Sutter’s discovery sparked the Gold Rush in 1848 (ironically, in the same region as many later cannabis activists), California made the nation accessible by railroad in the 1860s and by automobile decades later, provides the bulk of the nation’s agricultural products, industrialized the visual storytelling experience through television and film and created the Silicon Revolution.
Any new, emerging market is confronted with ups, downs and sideways. As a result of the efforts of the pioneers and advocates who paved the Green Road, we have the opportunity to be part of a newly legal industry. And it’s this spirit that will continue to ensure the position of California — and Los Angeles — at the forefront of the Green Rush.
Most importantly, this industry will provide things well beyond profit: the elimination and alleviating of suffering, the creation of narcotic alternatives, the provision of new jobs and careers, the opportunity to right historical social wrongs and to redefine the term “justice.” In this year’s L.A. Weekly Best of L.A.: Cannabis issue, we acknowledge those that are at the forefront in advancing leadership, quality, community advocacy and, of course, the fruits (sometimes, flowers) of their labor in a new wave of extraordinary cannabis products. —Michael Miller, associate publisher of cannabis