How Los Angeles Is Moving Forward With Governing City’s Commercial Cannabis Industry

By Herb Wesson, President of the Los Angeles City Council

***Editor’s Note: The following article is one viewpoint on how local governments in California are preparing for the legalization of recreational marijuana starting Jan. 1, 2018 in the State of California. On Dec. 27, an opposing viewpoint was published in the article “Why Placer County Will Not Participate In Any Legal Marijuana Scheme.

Earlier this month, my colleagues and I on the Los Angeles City Council voted to adopt regulations to govern the city’s commercial cannabis industry. We passed three separate ordinances, which together establish citywide regulations for the planning and licensing processes as well as outline operational requirements for cannabis-related businesses. These votes were a special moment for us — the culmination of a transparent and public process that began more than a year before.

The City Council has been carefully crafting industry regulations since Spring 2016. Following Measure M’s historic 80.5% passage rate, we immediately began the process of gleaning best practices from neighboring cities and states who had already established responsible cannabis regulations. We held over two dozen meetings, including evenings, inviting members of the public, industry experts and regulators from other states including Colorado, Oregon, and Washington to provide testimony.

Over the course of these forums, we made sure that our top priority never changed: ensuring the safety of L.A.’s communities. There is a 700 foot buffer zone between retail businesses selling cannabis or cannabis byproducts on-site and sensitive uses including parks, libraries, schools, daycare facilities and other community-serving establishments. Non-retail and delivery businesses are barred from operating within 600 feet of schools. The location restrictions will also help protect communities from an influx of cannabis related businesses.

As lawmakers, we have a responsibility to reasonably regulate this new industry in a manner that is safe, inclusive and practical. From Day 1, our council knew this would only be possible by engaging with those who had already done it and by involving the voices of Angelenos from all neighborhoods, ages and backgrounds.

This dedication to equity made it clear our regulations needed to address the negative consequences of the War on Drugs. No city had yet to take this on, and we were excited to have an opportunity to locally redress one of our country’s greatest policy mistakes. Our social equity program aims to assist Angelenos who have been convicted of a marijuana-related offense and those with low incomes who live or have lived in neighborhoods heavily affected by marijuana arrests by reducing the barriers to ownership of commercial cannabis businesses.

We are acutely aware that our actions here in Los Angeles are watched and often modeled across the country. We strived to create regulations that were equitable, open and reasonable, in the hopes that others would strive to do the same. We are far from being done, and we know that challenges will arise and changes will be made. Yet, the public process we have created and the legislative steps we have taken will lay the foundation for our city’s success in regulating this brand-new industry.

Herb Wesson has served as President of the Los Angeles City Council since November 2011 and has represented Council District 10 since 2005. The opinions in this article are presented in the spirit of spurring discussion and reflect those of the author and not necessarily the Treasurer, his office or the State of California.