California Weed

SLO County is a 'pot desert' now — but not for long. A dispensary will open soon

San Luis Obispo County is in a "pot desert," a term recently coined by the Sacramento Bee to describe areas where residents have to drive more than 60 miles to find a licensed storefront dispensary to buy legal marijuana.

But that will change soon: The first retail stores in the county are scheduled to open in Grover Beach as early as April.

According to a Sacramento Bee analysis of state data, three months into the rollout of commercial marijuana, residents in about 40 percent of the state are in "pot deserts,” borrowing from a term often applied to healthy food and grocery stores.

While that might sound like hyperbole for a product like cannabis, many people use marijuana for medicine and dispensaries are supposed to replace medical marijuana collectives that previously served patients.

The reason for the dearth of dispensaries across much of the state is simple local control. The legalization initiative, Proposition 64, gave local government the authority to ban or regulate commercial cannabis.

Communities in San Luis Obispo County reflect the range of local governments' approach to cannabis. Brick-and-mortar stores are banned in many communities, including Paso Robles, Pismo Beach and unincorporated areas of the county, while dispensaries will likely open in Grover Beach, Morro Bay and San Luis Obispo in the near future.

Grover Beach issued four permits for cannabis retail storefronts and expects the first one or two to open in April, with others following in May or June. Those might be limited to medical marijuana only, unless the City Council votes to allow recreational business on April 2.

Other cities are also on track to allowing dispensaries.

Morro Bay will begin accepting permit applications in July for two medical marijuana dispensaries. And San Luis Obispo is scheduled to adopt a local ordinance on May 1 that will likely allow recreational marijuana stores.

Some residents can obtain legal marijuana now through licensed delivery services, but not everywhere. The industry is hoping to improve the situation with a bill, SB 1302, that would allow cannabis delivery in communities with local bans. The bill, by Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, could face opposition from local governments that see their control as an essential component of Prop 64.

To create this map

The Bee analyzed 284 dispensaries licensed across the state by the California Bureau of Cannabis Control and found:

  • 30 percent of the state is within 30 miles of at least one dispensary. These are mostly the metro areas for the state’s biggest cities, including Los Angeles, San Francisco and Sacramento.
  • 29 percent of the state is between 30 and 60 miles of a dispensary.
  • The biggest part of the state, 38 percent, is between 60 and 120 miles of a dispensary.

Eastern California — from Oregon to Mexico — has the longest drive times to dispensaries.

California’s ‘pot deserts’

About 40 percent of the state is more than 60 miles from a legal marijuana dispensary. The locations of California’s 284 legal adult retail dispensaries, and the distance in miles to the nearest one:
Note: Map does not include microbusinesses, which run a variety of business types and might include retail. There were 55 microbusiness licenses issued in the state as of early March.
Source: California Bureau of Cannabis Control

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