Recreational marijuana sales in California will spark up in January. But folks without a medical card likely won’t be able to buy weed in San Luis Obispo County until spring — and then only in a few communities.
Recreational marijuana was legalized as a result of last year’s Proposition 64 – supported by 57 percent of California voters and 58 percent of county voters. Possession and cultivation of up to six plants are now legal for adults over the age of 21, and recreational sales were to begin by Jan. 1, 2018.
While the state is scheduled to begin issuing temporary licenses to recreational cannabis businesses in the new year, those businesses also need to receive permits from the counties or cities where they plan to operate – and so far, most jurisdictions in San Luis Obispo County either aren’t interested or aren’t ready.
None of the cities in the county will allow recreational marijuana businesses by the new year, and many plan to prohibit delivery of recreational marijuana within their boundaries. (Officials disagree on whether delivery is allowed in cities that don’t explicitly prohibit it).
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That means San Luis Obispo residents who don’t have a medical marijuana card will need to travel to buy weed legally. The same is true for people living in Morro Bay, Paso Robles and Pismo Beach.
Grover Beach has set the scene to embrace the new industry as an economic opportunity. But businesses that will likely open there in early 2018 will be limited to serving medical card holders, at least for now.
“At some point our council may consider pivoting,” Grover Beach city manager Matthew Bronson said.
What will happen in all the other communities in the county that are not incorporated cities – including places like Avila Beach, Cambria, Los Osos, Nipomo, Templeton and Santa Margarita – is up to the county.
New county cannabis regulations could be adopted as soon as Tuesday. With a draft ordinance that allows an unlimited number of dispensaries, manufacturing facilities, testing labs, distribution centers and nurseries, those communities could see the most activity.
But that doesn’t mean brick-and-mortar shops will open overnight, even if potential business owners are able to find locations to fit the county’s zoning rules.
“Early spring is probably the earliest,” county planner Brandi Cummings said.
Even if the Board of Supervisors adopts the ordinance Tuesday, it won’t go into effect for at least 30 days. After that, each permit application will go through a months-long review process that involves neighborhood notification and a hearing.
What’s the holdup?
That San Luis Obispo County as a whole is not fully embracing commercial cannabis right off the bat is not unique. It’s unclear where recreational sales will be allowed in the state come January.
“It’s sort of anti-climatic. In general, it’s just sort of frustrating,” said Sean Donahoe, a cannabis-industry consultant who works across the state.
Part of the holdup has been the state’s sluggish pace in rolling out the rules to create the basic standards of the industry, officials said. Temporary draft regulations are expected in November, and then applications for commercial business state licenses will become available.
Paso Robles passed a prohibitive ordinance last October and won’t likely revisit the issue “until we see the state’s regulations and the city council has an opportunity to digest them,” said Paso Robles Police Department Lt. Ty Lewis, who heads the city’s marijuana task force.
On top of that, local city officials are content to sit back and watch how the rolling back of decades-long prohibition plays out in other towns before committing limited staff time to writing rules just to be rewritten later.
Morro Bay is “banning (recreational cannabis businesses) to keep it easy as we look forward to do more research,” deputy city manager Ikani Taumoepeau said.
The holdup is also due to practical limitations of city staff.
“A big part of it is just when this workload can be accommodated,” said Michael Codron, San Luis Obispo’s community development director.
What will be allowed in your city?
Here’s how commercial cannabis rules in the county are shaping up so far:
Arroyo Grande: Marijuana delivery allowed; commercial marijuana activities prohibited.
Atascadero: Marijuana delivery allowed; commercial marijuana businesses prohibited.
Grover Beach: Medical cannabis businesses allowed in a portion of town, including two brick-and-mortar medical dispensaries, testing labs, extraction manufacturing and cultivation.
Morro Bay: Two medical dispensaries may be allowed. Other commercial businesses likely banned. Manufacturing may be considered. Deliveries limited to medical.
Paso Robles: Medical delivery allowed; commercial marijuana activities prohibited.
Pismo Beach: Medical delivery allowed; commercial cannabis activities prohibited.
San Luis Obispo: Commercial cannabis activities prohibited, for now. New draft ordinance expected by the new year.
Unincorporated communities in San Luis Obispo County: Commercial cannabis businesses allowed, subject to zoning and code specifications.