Memo to all you Golden State tokers: Your dreams of buying recreational pot in California after New Year’s Day are hazy at best.
It’s become clear in recent weeks that most cities around the Bay Area, as well as the rest of the state, will not be ready to permit recreational cannabis sales early next year when a proposition legalizing pot use goes live. That will leave only a few scattered exceptions — likely including Emeryville and Santa Cruz — where officials expect to be ready for recreational sales by the first of January.
Under Proposition 64, which passed with 57 percent of the vote last November, state officials will begin issuing permits on Jan. 1, allowing businesses to sell pot to Californians age 21 and over. But unlike in Colorado and Washington, where the first days of legalization were met with fanfare and created long lines at pot dispensaries, that date won’t mean much in California.
Stores can’t actually sell recreational marijuana unless they get permits from both the state and their local city — and many cities around the Bay Area are dragging their feet. A quick survey around the region found that it’s possible that no city in the Bay Area will be ready to start issuing permits for commercial sales of marijuana in the first days of 2018.
The proposition does allow adults to grow six marijuana plants in their home and use it themselves or give it to other people. But selling it in stores requires local governments to set up a whole regulatory framework.
“There’s a substantial amount of work that has to be done — you can’t phone it in at the end of December,” said Sean Donahoe, a former board member of the Oakland cannabis board and a cannabis industry consultant.
Many city officials say they’re still waiting on the state to issue its final regulations, which are expected in mid-November, and feel like they’re in limbo until they get more direction from state officials.
But Alex Traverso, spokesman for the state’s Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation, said a draft of those regulations posted in April gave cities and counties an idea of what the state is considering. By early December, online applications will be available for those seeking state licenses.
Even though the final state regulations won’t drop for another six weeks, several cities and counties are moving forward with proposed ordinances that they expect to tweak later. There are a few cities that could become, at least temporarily, recreational pot “hot spots” around the Bay Area.
In Emeryville, officials have released a request for proposals and plan to approve a single pot dispensary in the city, which could sell recreational or medical marijuana. That business is scheduled to be selected in November, and might be ready to open its doors in early January, said senior planner Miroo Desai. The timeframe is “going to be tight,” she said.
To get news, features and more Cannifornian content delivered straight to your inbox,
subscribe to our newsletter.
Bay Area residents also might find themselves driving into the hills of unincorporated Santa Cruz County to buy their pot. County spokesman Jason Hoppin said the county “should be ready to go’’ with retail sales by early January because the board of supervisors is planning to make a relatively simple change in its ordinance this fall, permitting its 12 current medical marijuana dispensaries to add adult recreational marijuana sales as well.
“Our plan is to have it in place by Jan. 1,’’ he said.
In Santa Cruz itself, officials are rushing to write an ordinance allowing the city’s two medical marijuana dispensaries to also sell recreational pot if they want to. The city Planning Commission will present the ordinance later this month, and could also decide to allow three new retail marijuana outlets in commercial corridors zoned along Mission Street, Soquel Avenue and Ocean Avenue, said Mike Ferry, a planner with the city.
But for most cities, Jan. 1 will come and go with no change for recreational pot sales. Even the cannabis capital of San Francisco, which has more than 30 medical marijuana dispensaries, won’t be selling any recreational pot in early 2018.
The city’s board of supervisors introduced regulations for the industry — including an equity program to help low-income residents and people of color start dispensaries — just this week. The city won’t issue recreational sales permits until those laws are passed later next year.
San Jose officials are still monitoring state regulations and exploring new regulations. Marijuana is now sold legally only at the city’s 16 medical marijuana dispensaries. A City Council vote is required to add recreational sales, said Wendy Sollazzi with the San Jose Police Department’s Division of Medical Marijuana Control.
In Oakland, officials are working on new regulations, and it’s unclear whether they’ll be ready. City officials did not respond to a request for comment.
Special report: Cannabis and the environment.
Most other cities — from Fremont to Pleasanton to San Mateo to Sunnyvale — are planning to keep their blanket bans on pot sales, at least for now.
“It’s not happening in our city,’’ said Sunnyvale deputy chief of special operations Carl Rushmeyer. The city has also banned commercial cultivation, distribution and manufacturing of the drug.
Sales in unincorporated Santa Clara and Contra Costa counties are currently prohibited, while San Mateo County’s ban on medicinal marijuana dispensaries is likely to carry over to recreational retailers when it comes up for a vote this fall.
“We want to take a wait-and-see attitude and see how this rolls out in other areas and what kinds of problems other jurisdictions find,’’ said San Mateo County Supervisor Don Horsley, the county’s former sheriff.
While officials “recognize that the people of the state of California have spoken,” Horsley said, “we’re not really impressed by what we’ve seen in Colorado and Washington.’’ He argued that there has been a “significant increase’’ in “social problems’’ such as impaired driving in the aftermath of retail sales being introduced in those states.
Other city leaders say they won’t allow pot sales right away simply because they don’t have enough time to get the regulations together.
“We’ve been told by our staff that there isn’t enough time to develop an ordinance to provide the regulatory framework by January 1, so we will have a temporary moratorium,” said Mountain View Mayor Lenny Siegel in an email. “I am confident that Mountain View will welcome dispensaries, but it is likely to take months to come up with an ordinance.”
Donahoe criticized the cities for holding up approvals after their own residents backed Prop 64 overwhelmingly. The proposition passed with large majorities across most of the Bay Area.
“People don’t want to purchase from a dealer in a dark alley, they want to go into a real shop,” Donahoe said. “There’s overwhelming support for doing this in a safer manner, and cities in the region have not stepped up.”
Several other cities won’t allow marijuana sales but will allow wider-scale cultivation. The city of Watsonville forbids medical and recreational marijuana sales, but Edgar Maravilla, an associate planner with the city, said it will allow marijuana cultivation at seven sites, and is in the process of approving manufacturing at nine sites. All 16 sites must be located in industrial zoned land and all products can only be used for medicinal marijuana purposes.
“When you bring in something new like this, it’s usually better to phase it in as opposed to opening something and then trying to mitigate it,’’ he said of the possibility of retail sales. “That’s kind of how the city is taking this approach.’’
Meanwhile, state officials are hoping to avoid disruptions to medical marijuana dispensaries as the new proposition kicks into effect.
Proposition 64 requires medical marijuana dispensaries to be regulated by the state, but Traverso said many dispensaries already face stiff local rules. Those in good standing in their communities are probably on the fast-track for a quick turn-around decision from the state. But only temporary, four-month licenses are being issued, which he said will give the state more time to review an applicant’s history.
“If you are currently qualified for medical marijuana with your local government, then the application process should not be difficult for you,” Traverso said. “We don’t want there to be any disruption in the supply” for medical marijuana patients, he said. “We want their business as it currently is to continue.”
Denis Cuff, Aaron Davis, Kevin Kelly, Simar Khanna, Tom Lochner, John Orr, and Sam Richards contributed reporting.
Will recreational marijuana sales be allowed in your city in January 2018?
DALY CITY: No
EAST PALO ALTO: Likely no
EMERYVILLE: Probably yes, but it might not be ready by January.
MARTINEZ: Unclear, but any permits won’t be issued by Jan. 1, said Police Chief Manjit Sappal.
MENLO PARK: Likely no
MOUNTAIN VIEW: No
PALO ALTO: Likely no
REDWOOD CITY: Likely no, although sales by delivery may be allowed.
SAN FRANCISCO: No
SAN JOSE: Unclear
SAN MATEO: No
SAN RAMON: No
SANTA CRUZ: Probably yes, but it might not be ready by January.
UNION CITY: Unclear. The City Council could choose to permit medical or recreational dispensaries under a new city ordinance.
Unincorporated areas of counties:
SANTA CLARA: No
CONTRA COSTA: No
SAN MATEO: No
SANTA CRUZ: Yes
ALAMEDA: Unclear. The Board of Supervisors will likely decide whether to allow recreational sales “within the next month,” said Liz McElligott, assistant planning director with the county. It’s unlikely any ordinance would be ready by Jan. 1, she said.
To subscribe to The Cannifornian’s email newsletter, click here.