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New California Bill Would Override Local Bans on Cannabis Stores

May 15, 2019
A new bill would triple California retail outlets to over 2,200. (Leafly illustration)
A new bill would triple California retail outlets to over 2,200. (Leafly illustration)
Voters aren’t getting the legalization they approved in 10 US states.

More than 50% of cities and counties ban local shops, even though a majority of local voters in many of those places approved of state legalization. Now, a new bill in California might be the first of its kind to mandate that local officials permit at least one cannabis retailer in towns where the voters want it.

Assembly Bill 1356 from California Assemblymembers Phil Ting (D-San Francisco) and Reginald Jones-Sawyer (D-South Los Angeles) sits in the Assembly’s Appropriations Committee awaiting a scheduled vote. It already passed its first committee on April 23 on a 12–7 vote.

AB 1356 would triple the number of stores, from 635 to over 2,200.

Supporters include the medical cannabis advocacy group Americans for Safe Access, which is tracking “cannabis deserts” where some California patients have to drive more than 100 miles to their nearest legal retail cannabis store.

AB 1356’s opponents are led by two powerful lobbying groups for cities and counties. The League of California Cities opposes the bill because they say it erodes local control, subverts the intent of Proposition 64, and might be illegal without a state vote.

Voters’ Will Undone

Both California medical cannabis rules from 2015 and adult-use initiative Proposition 64 from 2016 put local cities and counties in the driver’s seat when it comes to allowing or banning cannabis. By and large, they’ve parked the cannabis car in the garage.

Prop. 64 passed with 57% of the vote, and the initiative carried the day in 342 of the state’s 482 cities and 46 of California’s 58 counties. But nearly three years later, just 25% of cities and counties allow local stores.

For example, the Los Angeles suburb of Burbank’s voters passed Prop. 64 by 61%, then city leaders banned all stores.

In the posh, liberal enclave of Corte Madera, 70% of voters passed Prop. 64. Local leaders banned dispensaries there in May.

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“We knew [cities and counties] would be stubborn on providing access and providing retail locations, and that would take longer than some other states,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said during a news conference on his state budget. Annual cannabis tax revenue projections have fallen to $326 million in 2019 due to local delays.

Cities and counties have said they lack the skill to locally regulate cannabis. But cities can virtually copy and paste local ordinances from their neighbors at this point.

Leaders have also said they worry about increased crime, teen use, and decreased property values. But the best data show cannabis stores are associated with decreased crime, decreased teen use, and increased property values. (We collected it in Leafly’s new report, Debunking Dispensary Myths.)

Rep. Ting has had enough. The illicit market is growing, not shrinking in California, he states. And it’s because of failed local licensing. AB 1356 would triple the number of stores from 635 to over 2,200. In cities where voters approved Prop. 64, the bill calls for one cannabis store for every four liquor stores or, alternately, at least one cannabis store per 10,000 people.

Related

Leafly study debunks dispensary myths around crime & teen use

Ting has since amended the bill to mandate just a medical dispensary, not even an adult-use store. Cities have other escape clauses, too—like if local voters ban dispensaries by referendum.

Still, Burbank Mayor Emily Gabel-Luddy told the Los Angeles Times that the bill was “ridiculous” and “just wrong.”

By contrast, advocates at Americans for Safe Access say it’s ridiculous and just wrong that 23 years after Prop. 215, Californians still have to drive 100-plus miles to acquire their medicine. The bill has union support from the United Domestic Workers of America, too.

“A [healthcare] provider living in Placer County should not have to drive up to an hour to and from Sacramento in order to purchase medicine for their clients, as this poses a substantial burden to their day-to-day priorities,” the UDW said in a statement. “AB 1356 would promote accessibility for those who use cannabis as a medicinal alternative, allowing Californians to reap the benefits they voted for in Proposition 64.”

You can tell your local elected official where you stand on local cannabis bans, and on AB 1356, with this legislator contact info lookup tool.

David Downs's Bio Image

David Downs

David Downs directs news and lifestyle coverage as the California Bureau Chief for Leafly.com. He's written for WIRED, Rolling Stone and Billboard, and is the former cannabis editor of the San Francisco Chronicle, as well as the author of several cannabis books including 'Marijuana Harvest' by Ed Rosenthal and David Downs. He co-hosts The Hash podcast. TW: @davidrdowns | IG @daviddowns

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  • jontomas

    They made a big mistake with legalization in the WAY they let towns choose to opt out. – – It should not be by the tyrannical, often corrupt town councils or county commissions. – Only a VOTE by the citizens should be able to keep the stores out. — All these little dictators that deny the will of their own citizens is ugly and sickening!

    • JR

      TRUTH!! 100% these backwards ass little wanna be kings are the antitheses to democracy and how representative government should work.

  • Matt McLaughlin

    The State should get outta the way.

  • Juan Ruiz

    No one want drugs and all the homelessness, drugged driving, crime that comes with it. People are starting to wake up –wherever pot was legalized first, massive homeless population, mostly young men. No thanks. Not in my back yard.