California Today: Think Pot Policy Is Settled? Think Again

California Today: Think Pot Policy Is Settled? Think Again

California Today: Think Pot Policy Is Settled? Think Again

Cannabis buds being dried at NorCal Cannabis.CreditJim Wilson/The New York Times

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Cannabis buds being dried at NorCal Cannabis.CreditCreditJim Wilson/The New York Times
  • While the high holiday may feel like a relic now that recreational marijuana is legal, California’s pot policies are far from settled. And this week seemed to be as good a time as any to dig into the complexities of one fight.

This month, The Associated Press reported that a coalition of 25 local governments sued the state’s bureau of cannabis control over a rule that allows home delivery even in cities that do not allow storefront sales.

Mayor John Mirisch of Beverly Hills, one of the cities that filed the lawsuit in Fresno County Superior Court, told me it’s a matter of local control.

“It was supposed to be made clear that local jurisdictions would be able to regulate cannabis,” he said. “But surprise, surprise, Sacramento’s got something else in store for us.”

Beverly Hills, he said, made the choice not to allow marijuana retail storefronts — just as it does not have smelting plants.

And while the city does allow medical cannabis delivery, Mr. Mirisch said Beverly Hills should be able to draw the line where it wants. Letting recreational sellers deliver, he said, could encourage “a ‘Cheech and Chong’ situation” to flourish, particularly at the city’s famed hotels.

AnnaRae Grabstein, the chief compliance officer for the grower and distributor NorCal Cannabis, disagreed.

“I recognize that the law was written in a way to give local control over land use,” she said, “but we also think that safe and equal access is important to protect.”

NorCal Cannabis has about 500 employees working in growing operations, processing, packaging and distribution, Ms. Grabstein said, and the company has raised as much as $76 million in investment.

In order to grow that business, she said, consumers need to be able to safely access legal product. Banning delivery — which ensures that a broader range of consumers can get pot — will just send people back to the illegal market, she said. And as a result, that elusive legal marijuana tax windfall will continue to be, well, elusive.

[Read about why the state’s legal marijuana market hasn’t been the tax boon proponents promised.]

But Ryan Coonerty, chairman of the Santa Cruz County board of supervisors, said the reality was more nuanced for many communities.

Santa Cruz County joined the lawsuit, he said, not because officials there are concerned about the ramifications of wider recreational marijuana access, but to protect established local growers and distributors from big, out-of-town companies that are just now jumping into the market.

“It’s supporting local business,” he said. “They’re an important part of our local economy and we have developed our own rules for our local needs and we want those to be respected in our community.”

Mr. Coonerty said “it’s interesting” to be grouped with jurisdictions that don’t want recreational cannabis. Nevertheless, he said, he read the passage of Proposition 64 as giving clear authority to local governments.

“I want these other communities to expand access,” he said. “But I believe it should be done above board.”

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