This past Monday, the Los Angeles City Council held an open meeting of its Rules, Elections, and Intergovernmental Relations Committee on the subject of the city’s cannabis regulations. Our LA cannabis lawyers were present to comment on the new draft and urge the City to take a reasonable, fair, and business-oriented approach to regulation. To the disappointment of many of Los Angeles' cannabis stakeholders, the city has not yet drafted its final cannabis ordinance, and has yet to even set a date for the completion of said ordinance. Though under Measure M this was supposed to pass by September 30, that deadline is about to come and go.
As the LA Times reported, the current situation and the new draft regulations leave the city’s existing marijuana businesses (particularly existing cultivators and manufacturers) in a precarious situation. Without a clear path toward legally sanctioned operations under the new cannabis ordinance, their businesses could be forced to shut down to avoid violating the law. Beyond the obvious financial hardship, inconvenience, and legal risk, this unclear state of affairs for marijuana activity presents a business hazard: With real estate prices in Los Angeles at record levels, a property that’s zoned for cannabis activity, but not allowed to operate, can quickly become a white elephant with overhead expenses large enough to drive its owner out of business.
Council members responded to the concerns of those in attendance, saying that, although they had not made an official recommendation to the city on how to proceed, they hoped to find a solution that satisfied the existing industry’s needs. Politically, the situation is a difficult one: While it makes sense to give marijuana operators priority in licensing commensurate with their compliance with previous laws, detractors argue that this could be interpreted as rewarding grey-market or outright illegal activity. Either way, some constituents are bound to be unhappy. Moreover, the situation is characterized by pervasive uncertainty: this regulation is still a draft, and there could be still more changes on the way before a final ordinance is passed.
For Los Angeles to pave the way for a sustainable legal cannabis industry, the council members will have to respond to these concerns – and do so quickly, before the uncertainty of the current situation takes its toll on existing cannabis businesses.