Californians legalized pot, but these 10 big cities still don’t have retail dispensaries

Though Californians voted to legalize adult use marijuana in 2016, it remains largely unavailable in some of the biggest cities in the state.

By Andrew Sheeler, The Sacramento Bee

Though Californians voted to legalize adult use marijuana in 2016, it remains largely unavailable in some of the biggest cities in the state.

Out of the 482 cities in California, 174 of them allow some form of licensed cannabis business, says Hirsh Jain of Ananda Strategy.

Many of those cities allow only non-retail cannabis operations, such as manufacturing or distribution, “and so are arguably missing the most important part of the legal supply chain,” Jain said.

That’s because Proposition 64, the ballot initiative that legalized adult-use marijuana in the state, contained a provision that gave local jurisdictions the power to decide for themselves whether to allow retail cannabis activity in their boundaries.

Of the 10 largest cities in the state where there are no marijuana dispensaries, two are in the San Joaquin Valley, one is in the Bay Area, and the rest are located in Southern California, according to the website WeedMaps. Together, they account for more than 2.8 million people without immediate access to cannabis retail, outside of delivery.

Even cannabis delivery could be subject to local jurisdiction requirements, said Moorea Warren of the California Department of Cannabis Control, though a state license authorizes a cannabis delivery company to deliver to any jurisdiction in the state.

“Access to legal cannabis and cannabis products throughout the state is important for public safety and to combat the illegal market,” Warren said in a statement.

California cannabis industry advocates oppose the local control provision, with some asking Gov. Gavin Newsom and the Legislature to get rid of it.

But Elisa Arcidiacono of the League of California Cities said that local control “was a central promise in Proposition 64.”

“In fact, to win additional support for the measure, the authors amended the original language to include the explicit right of cities and counties to ban marijuana-related businesses entirely if they chose to. So, if a city or county refuses to license cannabis companies in their jurisdiction, this is entirely in line with what voters approved when they legalized adult-use cannabis in 2016,” Arcidiacono said in a statement.

Jennifer McGrath, a former Huntington Beach city attorney who now specializes in cannabis law, said that the majority of cities that permitted cannabis dispensaries were ones that had a preexisting medical cannabis regulatory system, ones where voters approved a cannabis tax or ones that were suffering through severe economic difficulty.

“Cities that do not fall under those three categories are generally led by the politics of the city council. On more than one occasion in the last two years, a city has drafted, reviewed, and held public hearings only to reject the regulations based on a change of city council members,” McGrath said.

She said a prime reason why cities delay permitting cannabis retail is politics.

“City council members and county supervisors are concerned with being reelected. Voting for cannabis can result in loss of support from local police chiefs, community members, and political action committees,” she said.

Here are the 10 largest cities in the state with no cannabis dispensaries:

1. Fresno – Fresno, with 525,000 residents, is the largest city in California not to have a marijuana dispensary. However, that will be changing soon. In September, the city’s Office of Cannabis Oversight granted preliminary approval of 21 cannabis retail businesses. The Fresno City Council later rejected four of the licenses. The first stores could open by early December, according to The Fresno Bee.

2. Bakersfield – When cruising down the I-5, don’t expect to hit any marijuana dispensaries in Bakersfield, population 404,000. Neither Bakersfield nor the unincorporated parts of Kern County allow for cannabis sales. Voters in 2020 rejected initiatives that would have allowed for the sale of marijuana, according to the Bakersfield Californian.

3. Anaheim – Anaheim might be home to the Magic Kingdom, but it isn’t home to any marijuana dispensaries. The Anaheim City Council in 2020 voted to reject cannabis retail within city limits, with council members questioning who would benefit from allowing such shops to open, according to Voice of OC. About 347,000 people live in the city.

4. Irvine – Like fellow Orange County city Anaheim, the sale of marijuana is prohibited in the City of Irvine, population 307,000.

5. Fremont – The lone Bay Area city on this list, Fremont prohibits all marijuana retail operations within city limits. About 230,000 people live in the Alameda County.

6. Santa Clarita – Shortly after California voters legalized adult-use cannabis in the state, the Santa Clarita City Council passed an emergency ordinance prohibiting the sale of recreational marijuana in the city, according to the KHTS. About 228,000 people live in the city.

7. Fontana – The Fontana City Council in January 2016 voted to enact an ordinance prohibiting all cannabis activity in the city of 208,000, according to the city clerk’s office.

8. Oxnard – Much like Fresno, Oxnard has cleared the way for cannabis retail dispensaries to open in the city of 202,000, with stores likely to open in 2022, according to Hirsh Jain.

9. Huntington Beach – The Huntington Beach City Council moved in August 2017 moved to take a “wait and see” approach to cannabis operations, passing a zoning amendment that prohibited recreational marijuana sales and distribution for the time being, according to the Los Angeles Times. They took up the issue again in August 2019, according to the Orange County Tribune, but the prohibition remains in effect in Huntington Beach, population 199,000.

10. Glendale – The Glendale City Council voted in November 2017 to prohibit cannabis activities in the city of 196,000.

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