California is well underway in the business of commercial cannabis, and now the state has
opened its golden doors to licensing. The state is actively reviewing applications for annual state
licenses. Those who have successfully triumphed over their local jurisdiction are quickly
realizing that was only half the battle and are in process of applying for a state license. The
industry is experiencing some growing pains as it continues to transition into a regulated market,
and if you’ve felt the hurt, here are some things to consider on whether it’s time to hire a law firm
to represent your cannabis business.
Depending upon the activity applied for, the relevant agency regulating commercial cannabis at
the state level – the Bureau of Cannabis Control (BCC), California Department of Public Health
(CDPH), or California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) – will contact the city or
county to verify the validity of the local license and that the business is in compliance with or exempt from the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), as required by state law. This should be an easy
tick off the checklist. However, we are finding the state is returning responsibility to the applicant
to provide evidence of CEQA. The language in the local ordinances, particularly in the smaller,
rural jurisdictions, can be vague and up to interpretation. Failure to provide evidence of
compliance with the CEQA, or with any of the regulations under state law and associated
governmental bodies, is subject to denial of the state license. As a result, all operations will be
forced to cease. Any operations occurring without a valid local and state license are subject to
heavy fines, as recently seen in Humboldt County, and could result in criminal prosecution. An
attorney will advise in navigating through all local and state requirements to protect your
business from shutting down.
A common issue aggravating many are problems arising due to incorrect zoning that can lead to
costly consequences. Before you sign a lease or purchase a property, verify the zoning. For
example, for those in the market for the City of Los Angeles during its second phase of
licensing, you may have noticed the maps to check zoning against sensitive use areas in each
of the 15 districts are no longer available. At the request of the Department of Cannabis
Regulation (DCR), the maps have been removed due to numerous issues arising from incorrect
zoning. Applicants were relying on the maps not realizing there may have been a school, EMMD,
or other sensitive use within the area. The city is allowing applicants the opportunity to find
another location that is in the correct zoning until at least September 13th , when this phase of
licensing closes. Finding a location in the correct zoning is no easy feat. Have the property
professionally mapped and consider hiring an attorney to negotiate the terms of the lease or
purchase contract, ensuring the property complies with all zoning and land use requirements
under the ordinance, and reducing the chance your license is denied.
If you are an investor looking to buy an existing license, beware of fraudulent deals and false
licenses. Does the license comply with CEQA? Is it in the correct zoning? What is the licensing
authority’s policy on transferring of cannabis licenses? Having an attorney do the due diligence
will help reduce the risk of your investment.
As the industry evolves, there is going to be more need for legal protection for entrepreneurs and
investors, so consider a business investment into a law firm well educated in the field of
cannabis law and protect your success.