More than a fifth of the cannabis companies in Sacramento, California, are confronting the possibility of at least a temporary suspension of operations on the first day of February.
City regulators sent notices to dozens of registered marijuana businesses in December as a reminder they had not formally completed the process for acquiring a Sacramento business operations permit.
Though many have finished the process since then, officials in California’s state capital said last week that 58 businesses still have not completed the paperwork and might have to cease operations as of Feb. 1 until they can get it in order.
“We felt that it was our obligation to ensure that our applicants were moving forward, and if they weren’t, then they’re no longer going to be able to continue to operate,” Sacramento Assistant City Manager Leyne Milstein said.
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The city has a total of 265 pending marijuana business applications, including many that are already operational, Milstein said.
So far, the city has issued 107 licenses, including 85 operating permits for companies that have completed the entire process.
The 58 that face closure are cultivators, manufacturers, distributors and delivery services. None are retail storefronts, Milstein said.
Milstein noted letters went out to license applicants last July, reminding all that they needed to finish the permitting process. Since then, many have complied.
Any of the 58 that do not comply with the order to cease operations could face civil fines.
At least one of those companies has already filed a legal challenge, asking a judge for a stay on the Feb. 1 deadline, said attorney James Anthony, who represents Marpe, a state-licensed cultivator in Sacramento that received one of the December warning letters.
Anthony said Marpe is working on complying with the city regulations but that it could take another six months to a year.
“Now I guess we’re going to slug it out in front of a judge,” he said.
Another state-licensed Sacramento operator who received one of the letters, Teri Apple, who has run cannabis delivery service STC Alternative Healing since 2016, said she’s uncertain whether she can make the Feb. 1 deadline.
Apple said she’s been trying to come into city compliance since receiving a notice in July that her building wasn’t up to code, but the city building department has repeatedly identified new problems for her landlord to handle. That’s delayed her ability to finish the permitting process, Apple said.
Her landlord will have to complete new electrical work and interior remodeling – all of which is unlikely to be finished by the start of February, Apple said.
“If it wasn’t for the building department throwing different things at us, we would have been completed,” she said.
Apple is worried that even a temporary closure would force her out of business.
“To have me shut down, even for a week, it could be the death of me,” she said.
More than seven months after marijuana became legal in California for adults over 21, advocates have a lot to be thankful for and yet still much to be desired.
Cities up and down the coast where Proposition 64 in 2016 passed by some of the ballot measure’s highest margins have banned dispensaries.
They have prevented individuals from growing cannabis in their backyards.
And now, with the state’s California Bureau of Cannabis Control poised to adopt new rules permanently governing the adult use of marijuana, cities are lining up in opposition to a provision that would force them to allow delivery services. A 60-day public comment period on the rules ends Aug 26.
“We always wanted to preserve local control,” said Dustin Moore, a Manhattan Beach resident who served as the deputy campaign manager for the Yes on 64 campaign.
Local control was baked into the proposition, he said, giving cities the ability to prohibit if they wished how many dispensaries operated in their city, if any at all.
“Even in the eyes of what’s being interpreted now around delivery services, I would still argue it allows for local control,” Moore said. “What they (cities) don’t have the ability to do is prevent someone from driving on public roads and deliver to a private residence.”
Although many cities passed laws prohibiting delivery services, law enforcement officials have said there is virtually nothing they can do to enforce such restrictions. The issue of delivery services is essential to the original Compassionate Use Act of 1996, which said patients must be allowed safe and legal access to medicinal marijuana, Moore said.
A proposed initiative aims to overturn Pomona’s ban on commercial marijuana use.
A review of Weedmaps.com, a website dedicated to connecting patients to dispensaries, delivery services and doctors, show numerous services that deliver throughout the South Bay – where every city bans the business practice.
Many of those delivery services are not charging taxes or operating under any business license at all, putting them in a sort of gray market, observers say. Some dispensaries, located in unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County, out of the jurisdiction of cities with prohibitions, may also be operating under quasi-legal circumstances.
What cities also can’t control is the ability for an individual to grow up to six plants in the privacy of their own home. The proposition also decriminalized marijuana offenses and expunged past convictions depending on the amount involved.
Among Los Angeles-area beach cities, Long Beach is the only municipality that permits dispensaries through a voter-approved medical-marijuana initiative in 2016, which allows up to 32 licenses. The City Council approved last month rules that set up fees and licensing requirements for medical-marijuana dispensaries that also want to operate as adult-use ones; those fees run between $7,000 and $8,500, but they have yet to take effect.
Ivan Jimenez, a Long Beach resident who grows cannabis for his own business in Northern California, told the council at the time of the rulemaking process that he’d like to open up in his home city but he finds the fees too high.
“I would love to come here and invest money in the same industry,” Jimenez said during public comment. But “I believe the city of Long Beach is taking advantage of the taxing and taking advantage of the fees.”
Devil in details
Since January, when the adult-use law went into effect, dispensaries across the state have been adapting to new emergency regulations put in place to bridge the gap before permanent rules could be established.
Those emergency rules required by July 1 that all products, medicinal and recreational, be tested and labelled. The new rules also barred giveaways and allowed governments to impose taxes, some as high as 35 percent in combined local, county and state taxes.
Moore believes what bans and excessive taxes and fees are doing is “throwing gas on the illicit market.”
In Los Angeles County, where 59.5 percent of voters approved Prop 64, only 20 percent of municipalities allow some kind of operating license to sell pot. That’s not to say, however, that every supporter wants a dispensary around the corner from their house, Moore said.
“When you voted for Prop 64 what did you actually vote for. Were you voting for cannabis to be sold in your neighborhood or for cannabis to be made legal and end the war on drugs.”
Jonatan Cvetko, who heads the non-profit Emerald Angels that works toward responsible cannabis regulation, said rules such as one that requires child-resistant bags were a good thing. Like other advocates, Cvetko fears that the legal market is not given an opportunity to succeed.
“If the majority of the bans stay in place there will be no access for residents to find clean and safe products,” Cvetko said. “It’s not that the black market will come back, it’s that it hasn’t gone away. The goal was to allow existing operators to transition, so without any pathways for operators they have no choice but to stay in the illicit market.”
In Redondo Beach, the council was unified against the state’s rulemaking allowing delivery services even in cities with laws prohibiting them. The council directed staff to draft a letter to that effect. Similar letters were recently addressed to the state agency by the League of California Cities
While it opposed one important aspect of the rules, the Redondo Beach City Council also instructed the city manager to form a Cannabis Steering Committee. Mayor Bill Brand said that doesn’t mean the city is giving the green light to dispensaries.
“This is brand new legislative territory, so I’m looking forward to the recommendations from the city manager’s task force and more importantly, what the residents feel is appropriate for Redondo Beach,” Brand wrote in a statement. “No decisions will be made before a full vetting of all the issues.”
For more information on the cannabis industry in California and to comment on the proposed rules visit Cannabis.ca.gov.