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Home / Holly J. Mitchell

LA County moves closer to licensing commercial cannabis businesses

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors agreed Tuesday to move forward with the development and implementation of an “equitable” system for licensing commercial cannabis businesses in unincorporated areas.

The board’s action means an end is potentially in sight to the county’s years-long ban on marijuana dispensaries and other cannabis-related activities. The county’s prohibition on marijuana dispensaries in unincorporated areas has been in place since 2010 and was broadened in 2017 to include the cultivation, manufacture, testing and distribution of the drug for other than personal use.

California voted to legalize cannabis in 2016 and legal recreational sales began in January 2018.

The board directed its Department of Consumer and Business Affairs to develop and implement a commercial cannabis licensing program for unincorporated areas, beginning with a limited number of licenses while prioritizing “equity” applicants.

The framework authorized by the board allows for up to 25 retail, 25 delivery, 10 cultivation, 10 manufacturing, 10 distribution and 10 testing licenses. County officials said limiting the initial number of licenses will assure that the permits are being distributed equitably in the community.

“A cannabis program that is safe, regulated and equitable is necessary for unincorporated L.A. County and for addressing the injustices that have caused communities of color to be disproportionately criminalized and shut out of economic gains from the legalization of cannabis,” Board of Supervisors Chair Holly J. Mitchell, who co-authored the motion, said in a statement.

County officials noted that illegal marijuana operations have been a growing issue in many unincorporated areas, creating safety issues for affected neighborhoods and opening an illegal trade ripe for violence and organized criminal activity.

“For the past few years, my office and I have worked closely with many community members to combat illegally cannabis businesses in unincorporated areas of the First District,” Supervisor Hilda Solis, a motion co-author, said in a statement. “And while we’ve been able to shut down many illegal dispensaries quickly and permanently, our residents remain frustrated on the lack of effective measures to protect their families from the negative impacts of these unlicensed establishments while also respecting the intent of California’s voters who supported the legalization of cannabis.

“To that end, the time is right to begin developing a plan for the legal distribution, retail, manufacturing and enforcement and regulation of cannabis in unincorporated Los Angeles County that is rooted in equitable access, strong and effective enforcement, and community awareness and education.”

Under the board’s action, the DCBA will also offer potential licensees with referrals and access to education, job-training and technical assistance, along with possible financial assistance.

Until the department fully develops the system, all commercial cannabis activity will continue to be illegal in unincorporated areas. It was unclear how long it will take to fully develop the program.

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