California cities and counties that banned cannabis retailers from opening shop in their jurisdictions could soon be forced to allow marijuana retailers - if a new bill is approved by the state legislature.
If passed, Assembly Bill 1356 would open at least 2,200 new legal cannabis stores across California. Many of those new locations would be in cities and counties that previously banned marijuana retailers.
But state lawmakers don't want to force marijuana retailers on communities where they aren't wanted. So instead of making every municipality welcome the cannabis industry, the state will target areas where the majority of residents voted in favor of Proposition 64 - the cannabis ballot initiative that California voters approved back in 2016. So this measure could be seen as a way to fulfill the will of the people by opening marijuana retailers in communities that supported recreational legalization.
The new bill would force communities to license at least one dispensary for every four liquor stores, or for every 10,000 residents in their jurisdiction, whichever is less.
The legislation was introduced to the state legislature by Assemblyman Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), who drafted the new law in response to the legal cannabis market's struggle to displace the illicit market in California. Many critics have blamed that struggle on communities that banned cannabis sales within their jurisdictions. Roughly two-thirds of the state's cities and counties have banned licensed pot shops, which means the market for illicit dealers is huge.
"It's unfortunate that the cities and the counties really haven't fulfilled the will of the voters to provide legal access under Proposition 64," Ting told the Los Angeles Times.
Ting's bill would allow jurisdictions that opposed Proposition 64 to uphold their ban on cannabis retailers. Meanwhile, areas that object to repealing their ban can let residents decide the matter by having a public vote on the issue.
Despite those concessions, some think that Ting's bill goes too far in limiting the rights of local governments to decide what happens in their communities.
"I think it's ridiculous and I think it's an overreach," Burbank Mayor Emily Gabel-Luddy said of the proposal. "The bill is an example of Sacramento deciding what should happen at the local level, and it's just wrong."
Some raised concerns that allowing marijuana retailers in their communities could cause a spike in local crime rates since cannabis stores have so much cash on hand. Thanks to federal prohibition, most banks and financial institutions are wary of doing businesses with the cannabis industry, so many retailers have to operate on a cash-only basis.
"One of the problems is the handling of the cash involved in cannabis sales," Mayor Gabel-Luddy noted. "It is a concern for us when there are large amounts of cash lying around."
However, those in support of Ting's bill say the people of California voted for legal weed and they should be able to have it, especially patients whose well-being are impacted the most by these bans.
"We remain concerned that there remain a number of large, mainly rural counties where severely ill medical patients have no legal access at all," said Dale Gieringer - Director of California NORML. "Some patients there have to drive over 100 miles to find legal stores."
Ting's bill was recently approved by a key policy committee and is to be voted on by a financial panel this week. If the legislation makes it to Governor Gavin Newsom's (D) desk, it could be improve the California market's disappointing sales.