LOS ANGELES (CN) – Poised to become one of the largest recreational cannabis industries in the nation, the Los Angeles City Council continued to calibrate its regulations for the new commercial industry even as it approved a bulk of ordinances at its Wednesday meeting.
Starting Jan. 1, the state of California will begin issuing licenses for recreational cannabis businesses. The City Council approved the legal foundation of that industry in LA, and plans to return funding to local communities through sales and taxes, give priority to cannabis businesses already operating in the city and to help communities impacted by the decades-long war on drugs.
A Social Equity Program would give those previously incarcerated on cannabis-related charges an onramp to become employees or business owners in the new industry.
City Council president Herb Wesson said of the Social Equity Program, “It’s not a diversity program. It’s not a low-income program. It’s about trying to correct a wrong.”
But council members’ concerns persisted, including how to modify buffer zones to keep cannabis businesses away from schools, public parks and drug and alcohol rehabilitation locations.
Councilmember Curren Price said schools have begun springing up in industrial zones in his district, which includes much of South Los Angeles, and could put a damper on plans to open a business in an otherwise industrial zone. Instead of an all-out restriction, he suggested a case-by-case review for those businesses.
City officials have held hearings on the proposed recreational cannabis industry since May 2016.
On Wednesday, members from the newly formed Department of Cannabis Regulation and the city attorney’s office answered questions before the regulations and ordinances were approved. The vote was unanimous, with 12 council members present.
Cat Packer, executive director of the cannabis regulation department, said there will be plenty more conversations moving forward about the regulations that were approved, including hours of operation for retail businesses, out-of-state or county businesses taking advantage of the city’s incentives like the Social Equity Program, illegal storefronts and how to enforce the new industry rules.
Packer said some operators will be given priority in the licensing process and will receive limited immunity as long as they follow necessary requirements and are Proposition D-compliant, which regulated the number of dispensaries operating in the city in 2014.
“It should be somewhat of a smooth transition,” said Packer.
In order to operate in the city of Los Angeles, businesses will need to receive both local and state licenses before they can go through an inspection process.
Wednesday’s vote will ensure those operators do not pose harm to public health and safety, Packer said. She described the process as ping-pong between the city and the state.
Councilmember Nury Martinez, whose district includes parts of the San Fernando Valley, said the city will have to follow through on enforcement and make sure the cannabis regulation department is fully funded.
One topic that remains a concern for cannabis proponents is the city’s recommendation to go cashless throughout the industry. Opponents of the cashless system say the move would push low-income communities, whose residents often can’t afford the suggested bank cards, to the black market for cannabis.