Here’s wishing all of our readers a bright and festive holiday.

We appreciate all of you, and we will be back here tomorrow with the goods.

Merry Christmas!

2018 has been a roller coaster for California cannabis businesses. The cannabis laws and regulations in California have made life difficult, to say the least, for anyone wishing to obtain licensure. This isn’t necessarily the fault of any single legislature, municipality, or agency, but instead was the result of a perfect storm of legal and non-legal issues.

The beginning of the year saw the opening of adult use licensing under the Medicinal and Adult Use Cannabis Regulatory and Safety Act (or “MAUCRSA”). Businesses that sought licensure could apply as of January 1, 2018 for an annual application. In theory, this could have been simple, but it turned out to be far more complex than anyone probably intended.

One provision in MAUCRSA that has been the bane of any applicant’s existence is the requirement to have local approval when applying for an annual (or temporary) license. What this means is that applicants couldn’t apply for state and local licenses concurrently; instead, they had to apply for and obtain full local approval first, and then move onto the statewide licensing. Localities have been all over the map in terms of how they process applications, which means that it could take months between finding an eligible parcel of land and even starting the process of applying for state licensing.

Many cities (for example, Los Angeles) have created complex, phased licensing schemes that meant that certain applicants couldn’t even apply until late in the year. (For Los Angeles, the final, third phase won’t even open until some undisclosed time in 2019.) It’s understandable why larger cities would want to phase their application processes—but for operators, this posed a pretty big problem in terms of delays to apply for annuals and the temporary license deadline.

And regarding temporary licenses, MAUCRSA set up a scheme to allow for temporary licenses that last for 120 days and could be renewed for 90 days. The intent appears to have been to allow operators with local approval to start engaging in business while applying for annual licenses. For reasons that in hindsight appear to not make too much sense, these temporary licenses could only be issued during 2018.

This end-of-2018 cutoff meant that applicants needed local approval prior to the cutoff date so that they could obtain temporary licenses while awaiting the very, very slow annual license application process. But the problem was that cities were so backlogged—or in some cases hadn’t opened all phases until too late in 2018. To solve this issue, many localities started providing applicants with local approval letters late in 2018, and there was a bottleneck in applications in November and December.

Additionally, over the summer, the California legislature, recognizing the delay in processing local approvals (some of which was caused by environmental disasters and other forces that nobody drafting MAUCRSA probably anticipated), created a new kind of “provisional license” to be issued through 2020, which is similar to the temporary license but will last longer. This could have been a saving grace for applicants who were delayed by phasing or other local issues into late 2018. However, the legislature expressly required that an applicant for a provisional license had to have obtained a temporary license at some point in 2018. In other words, the provisional license scheme really only benefits those who were already first in line in 2018.

Separate from these licensing issues, the regulations have undergone numerous and drastic changes many times in 2018. For example, in October 2018, the Bureau of Cannabis Control (“BCC”)—which regulates distributors and retailers, among other things—issued modified proposed regulations that seemed to ban many IP licensing agreements and vastly broaden the ownership definitions in requirements in a manner unlike the other California cannabis regulators. It appears that some of these expansions may have been drawn back in subsequent proposed final regulations. But these many rounds of proposed or emergency regulations have imposed a lot of stress on applicants already under the stress of the foregoing application process.

This is only a short post and we can certainly point out many more areas in which the cannabis industry in California undergone growing pains this year.  We intend to write soon about what 2019 will look like for applicants, but suffice it to say, for those who don’t have temporary licenses, there will be more delay.

california marijuana public consumption
Coming to a California locale near you?

As more cities begin to allow for and regulate commercial cannabis businesses, the State of California is seeing an influx of cannabis tourism. We’ve written before about the touchy relationships governments have with the idea of “cannabis lounges” (see here and here) and often questioned who will lead us in regards to cannabis tourism (our bets have often been on California).

Consumption of cannabis in public is illegal in the State of California, and many hotels and Air B&B’s do not allow smoking or “drug use” in their guest rooms. Nonetheless, MAUCRSA allows local jurisdictions to authorize the on-site consumption of cannabis by state-licensed retailers and/or microbusinesses, which gives tourists at least one legal way to consume. Specifically, so long as your city or county okays it, retailers and microbusinesses can have on-site consumption if: (1) access to the area where cannabis consumption is allowed is restricted to persons 21 years of age and older, (2) cannabis consumption is not visible from any public place or nonage-restricted area, and (3) the sale or consumption of alcohol or tobacco is not allowed on the premises. However, most local governments have explicitly prohibited “cannabis lounges” and on-site consumption by licensees (including the City of Los Angeles). Some cities, however, are capitalizing on the tourism potential in The Golden State. We have compiled a list of notable locales below.

The City of West Hollywood is the only city in the Los Angeles area that allows for on-site consumption. The City plans to permit eight (8) on-site consumption businesses for smoking, vaping, and ingesting, and it will also allow 8 on-site consumption businesses for edible ingestion only. The window for submission for on-site consumption applications (and for other commercial cannabis businesses) is expected during the month of May, so we may see on-site consumption up and running for the busy summer months. Los Angeles, which is an area already known for tourism, will see a lot of its cannabis tourism go to the City of West Hollywood.

San Francisco has been California’s leader when it comes to the cannabis lounge concept (and cannabis businesses in general). San Francisco’s regulations outright permit retailers and microbusinesses to allow customers to engage in on-site consumption. Unlike other cities that have placed strict limits on consumption lounges or outright banned them, San Francisco is fully embracing the cannabis lounge model.

The City of Oakland allows medical and adult-use cannabis dispensaries the opportunity to apply for and “obtain a secondary on-site consumption permit in order for cannabis to be consumed on the premises of the dispensary.” See Oakland Municipal Code §5.80.025. The City has not disclosed any limits as to how many on-site consumption permits may be issued, but the City has thus far only allowed eight dispensary permits and, as a result, there won’t be more than eight on-site consumption permits available (because only retailers and microbusinesses are allowed to undertake on-site consumption under state law).

The City of Alameda will only issue two dispensary/retailer permits. The City’s ordinance allows those retailers to have on-site use or consumption of cannabis or cannabis products in interior areas of the licensed premises. The City has made it relatively easy for those granted a dispensary/retail permit to also capitalize on on-site consumption.

Palm Springs has expanded its cannabis regulations to allow for cannabis consumer lounges. “Cannabis Lounge Facility” permits are available in the City, and those holding the proper permits may additionally sell medical and adult-use cannabis and cannabis products. With festival activities fast-approaching in the desert cities, many tourists will flock to the Palm Springs area looking to partake under California’s new cannabis laws. Palm Springs will likely see a high demand in cannabis and cannabis products from tourists looking to consume during festival time.

Other California cities that have explored the idea of cannabis lounges are Cathedral City and South Lake Tahoe, but nothing official has happened in either city as of yet. Over time, as legalized cannabis becomes more normalized (and socialized) in the state, California will likely see an increase in cities that allow cannabis lounges. For now though, on-site consumption is a rare occurrence and a political hot potato. And for the few on-site consumption lounges that exist, we expect nothing but success and increased tourism.