In March, L.A. voters overwhelmingly approved Measure M, which requires the City Council to regulate legal marijuana. By empowering the city to license and tax pot companies, Measure M was designed to formalize the city’s legitimate marijuana industry, while giving companies the legal foundation they need to operate and grow. Measure M repealed Proposition D, which took effect in 2013 and gave 135 dispensaries in the city “limited immunity” from prosecution.
While voters have approved creating an above-ground marijuana industry, the process of writing these rules takes months. On Friday, City Councilman Paul Koretz introduced a motion to protect L.A. cannabis businesses while the council writes permanent rules for the industry.
The motion has strong support from the Southern California Coalition, the industry group that created Measure M. In a May memo to the City Council, the SCC noted, "It would appear that those hostile to cannabis have historically used the 'gap' period during which the city was working on but had not passed ordinances, to raid indiscriminately or, in more recent times, engage in selective or targeted enforcement."
In the meantime, the motion says it is a “very dangerous time for those seeking licensure as enforcement increases during this period. The Southern California Coalition has already received several reports of ‘compliance checks’ of dispensaries by the Los Angeles Police Department resulting in threats of closure over minor matters that any other sort of business would have been given time to cure.”
The scope of these "compliance checks" since the Measure M vote was not immediately clear. (LAPD was unable to comment over the long holiday weekend.)
Koretz’s motion would allow the city to establish a registry for existing businesses that plan to seek licenses once the guidelines have been finalized and the application process begins. The city hopes to have rules in place by Sept. 30, which SCC executive director Adam Spiker called a “very aggressive schedule” to regulate the world’s largest legal cannabis market. Some L.A. cannabis businesses also are looking ahead to Jan. 1 when the state licensing process is expected to begin.
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The SCC's memo to the City Council mentioned that the registry should include dispensaries recognized under Proposition D as well as businesses not recognized by it. Amid renewed concerns of a federal crackdown on state legal weed under U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the memo states that the registry should not be publicly available and that a relevant business should be revealed to law enforcement officers only if they have a warrant or court order signed by a judge. "Each applicant deemed eligible for the list will be assigned an identifier number, unique to that applicant and no other," the memo states.
The SCC memo says assembling this registry would benefit the city by better informing it on the shape of its emergent marijuana industry. If every applying business provided a letter of intent from its landlord or proof of property ownership, the memo argues, the city would have a head start on understanding demand for licenses and on thinking about sure-to-be-contentious cannabis land-use issues, which can include unwanted odors and the proximity of businesses to schools.
The organization, which claims to be the largest industry group in Southern California, has several hundred growers as members. Spiker estimated that there are between 4,000 and 6,000 commercial growers in L.A. He says that if half of them applied for the registry, “That should be very helpful information to the city.” The best existing information, according to the memo, is a 2016 survey of L.A. County done by the California Department of Agriculture.
Spiker warned that the current uncertainty could drive companies back into the illegal market or into more welcoming cities, such as Long Beach or those in the high desert, depriving Angelenos of jobs and tax revenue. “Both of those options are unacceptable,” he said.