California has 58 counties and 482 incorporated cities across the state, each with the option to create its own rules or ban marijuana altogether. In this California Cannabis Countdown series, we plan to cover who is banning, who is waiting, and who is embracing California’s change to legalize marijuana — permits, regulations, taxes and all. For each city and county, we’ll discuss its location, history with cannabis, current law, and proposed law to give you a clearer picture of where to locate your cannabis business, how to keep it legal, and what you will and won’t be allowed to do.
Our last California Cannabis Countdown post was on Nevada County, and before that, the City of Lynwood, the City of Coachella, Los Angeles County, the City of Los Angeles, the City of Desert Hot Springs, Sonoma County, the City of Sacramento, the City of Berkeley, Calaveras County, Monterey County and the City of Emeryville.
Welcome to the California Cannabis Countdown.
I’d bet most Californians would be surprised that Marin County, known for its affluence and laid back lifestyle, does not have a single licensed medical marijuana dispensary collective (though there are some delivery services). It’s been twenty years since the enactment of the Compassionate Use Act – which 73% of Marin residents approved – and Marin is still figuring out how to convert the will of its voters into practice. This resistance by Marin County elected officials to move forward on cannabis is even harder to grasp after the more recent results of the Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA) vote where nearly 70% of Marin residents voted for marijuana legalization. Prior to the AUMA, the California State legislature passed the Medical Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act (MCRSA). The MCRSA covers the comprehensive licensing and regulatory framework for medical cannabis while also granting local jurisdictions the authority to enact their own licensing requirements. Under the MCRSA, a license applicant must demonstrate local approval to secure state licensure. And under the AUMA — though licensees do not need local approval to receive a California state cannabis license, they must be in compliance with all local laws to be able to open the doors of their cannabis business. In turn, the MCRSA and the AUMA are motivating jurisdictions to act, and with the intent of its voters so clear, Marin is slowly taking steps towards local marijuana business licensing.
Medical marijuana is still banned in Marin County’s cities but some, like San Rafael and Larkspur, are gradually adopting local marijuana regulations. The Marin County Board of Supervisors – which has jurisdiction over the unincorporated areas of Marin County – has taken the lead in licensing medical marijuana entities, but not recreational marijuana businesses yet. Under its current medical marijuana ordinance, the Board has authority to issue up to four medical cannabis licenses in Marin County’s unincorporated areas. Over the past couple of months, the County held three public hearings for ten applicants vying for those four licenses.
I attended those hearings and it was clear to me that many of the applicants had not done their homework and therefore had essentially disqualified themselves from getting one of the four medical cannabis licenses. Many disqualified themselves by submitting incomplete or misleading forms. Worse yet, some disqualified themselves by having questionable business partners, which in turn incited the community’s ire — which is not something you want to do in Marin County!
These hearings also call to mind something our cannabis business lawyers are always telling our clients: be careful what you share on social media because your posts can come back to haunt you. At one of the hearings I attended, one license application faced a barrage of attacks because the applicant had partnered with someone whose social media posts glorified essentially the worst stereotypes of marijuana. This individual had Facebook and Instagram accounts glorifying guns, drugs and money, perfectly feeding into the sort of cannabis fears pot prohibitionists love to peddle. Printouts of this person’s social media posts were passed out to everyone at the hearing, both attendees like me and representatives of the Marin County Board.
As California cities and counties continue to put local regulations in place for medical and recreational marijuana operators, marijuana business applicants must start now in developing the first (and second) impressions they will be conveying on their communities, especially if you are looking to open a cannabis business in an county like Marin that is really just getting started with legal cannabis businesses.
What I saw at these Marin County hearings reinforced how critical it is for potential cannabis licensees to do their due diligence regarding the pressure points of the community in which the cannabis business will be located. For example, are you seeking to enter a community where you are likely to run into aggressive NIMBYs or one with such restrictive cannabis business regulations that it is nearly impossible to operate? See High Dive: How To Fail In The Marijuana Industry. With California’s “new” legalization comes new opportunities to find the best possible and permissible location for your new or renewed cannabis business and new opportunities to engage and educate the relevant community to alleviate concerns and misbeliefs.
Editor’s Note: Habib recently joined our firm as an attorney in our San Francisco office, where he will be focusing on mostly California cannabis regulatory and dispute resolution issues.