Fewer than one in three California cities (144 out of 482) allow any kind of cannabis business to operate in their borders. And just 18 of the state’s 58 counties permit cannabis businesses in their unincorporated areas.
Also, fewer than one in five California cities welcome medical marijuana dispensaries, while fewer than one in seven allow recreational cannabis stores, where anyone 21 and older has been able to shop for legal weed since Jan. 1.
These are some of the findings in a first-of-its-kind investigation, tracking and compiling the cannabis ordinances in all 540 city and county jurisdictions in California, a study conducted by Southern California News Group and other Digital First newspapers.
The information opens a window into how the industry is taking shape three months after California began licensing marijuana businesses and permitting the sale of recreational marijuana.
The study is needed because of a simple rule in California: While Proposition 64 (approved by 57 percent of state voters in November 2016) makes it legal for people to carry up to an ounce of marijuana and to grow it at home and consume it for pleasure, the law also gives cities and counties a strong say in how that law is implemented within their jurisdictions.
That dichotomy has led to a crazy quilt of policies across the state. Some towns are cannabis friendly, allowing a wide range of businesses related to a product that residents are free to use at their discretion. Other cities are less enthusiastic, with some blocking virtually every type of marijuana-related enterprise and, in some cases, passing ordinances that seem aimed at regulating personal use as much as possible.
Last year, to help everyone from pot consumers and would-be pot entrepreneurs to people who simply are curious about the progress of a new state law, we began gathering details on local marijuana policies. In January, we launched a database with some of that information, offering cannabis rules from about half the cities in the state. Today, we’ve upgraded that work, with rules from every city and county in California.
The information is included in our online database, where readers can search policies by location or by business type. And, based on an analysis of that data, we’ve ranked each community on our 100-point scale of marijuana friendliness.
The data reveals some interesting trends, conflicts and anomalies. It also shows that leaders in some communities are far less enthusiastic (or, in some cases, more enthusiastic) about cannabis than the residents who voted for or against Prop 64. That’s one reason the database shows city-by-city voting results, too.
Today’s story is the first in a three-part series. Next up is a story about how some city laws seem to paint cannabis as a barely-legal product, and after that will come a story about how a few cities are particularly eager to make money off the cannabis industry.
We’ll continue exploring and expanding the data so, down the road, we can offer more insights about the multi-billion-dollar world of legal cannabis in California.
California hasn’t gone green
Many people seem to think it’s a free-for-all when it comes to cannabis in California now that recreational marijuana is legal. But that’s far from the case, as many cities are setting up strict rules on what types of cannabis businesses — if any — can open in their town.
And even the numbers that seem to indicate where the cannabis industry is being welcomed can paint an overly enthusiastic picture. A couple dozen cities on the chart — places such as Moreno Valley and Davis — have passed rules to allow marijuana businesses. But that data doesn’t show how those cities have yet to fully develop the regulations, or issue permits, to let those businesses start.
That’s why even though 61 cities and nine counties have ordinances on the books that allow recreational marijuana stores, as of April 6, 2018, the state Bureau of Cannabis Control had licensed recreational shops in only 34 cities and five unincorporated county areas of California.
Most cannabis-friendly cities in California
A couple dozen cities are leading the pack for the most points we’ve doled out so far, meaning they’re the most lenient cities in the state when it comes to cannabis policy.
Riverside County has by far the highest number of permissive cities, with six that score above 96 points on our scale. A few other counties have two 96-point cities each, including Los Angeles and Sonoma.
Four counties are also racking up points when it comes to their lenient policies for unincorporated areas: Humboldt, Inyo, Del Norte and Monterey.
To get above 96 points, cities and counties must allow every type of marijuana business licensed by the state. That means permitting medical and recreational licenses for cannabis sales, cultivation, manufacturing, distribution and testing. They would also have to allow their residents to grow marijuana at home, both indoors and outdoors.
No one yet has a score of 100 is because we reserved a few points in our scale for cities that go a step further and allow, say, cannabis lounges or festivals. We’ll be incorporating these factors as we continue to build out the database, with cities such as Palm Springs and San Francisco — which permit cannabis lounges — expected to jump even higher.
(Note: We don’t mean to imply that “high” scores are better or worse than “low” scores. If you support cannabis rights, you’ll likely see a high score as a good thing. If you oppose them, you’ll likely see a low score as preferable. Our scoring system is simply a mathematical way to compare city and county policies.)
Least cannabis-friendly cities in California
More than five dozen cities score a zero on our scale of cannabis friendliness.
These cities are spread over 26 counties. The highest number is predictably in the county with by far the most cities: Los Angeles. But just 19 percent of L.A. County cities are super strict on cannabis, while every city in the tiny counties of Madera and Sutter have passed the toughest rules possible.
Perhaps the biggest surprise is in Humboldt County, which is famous for cannabis production. Despite the region’s reputation as a cannabis hotbed, and despite having a couple cities where cannabis ordinances are lenient, four of the seven cities in Humboldt County earn zero points on our scale.
To get a zero score, a city has to ban all marijuana businesses, block residents from growing marijuana for personal use outdoors and require them to get a permit to grow it inside their homes.
County policies sometimes conflict with cities
So far, counties have been slightly more likely than cities to welcome marijuana businesses.
The gap is most pronounced when it comes to shops and cultivation. More than 15 percent of California counties allow recreational stores in unincorporated areas, for example, compared with 12 percent of cities. And 27 percent of counties allow medical marijuana cultivation, compared with just 20 percent of cities.
In some places, county policies contrast sharply with some of the rules passed by cities within that county.
Imperial County, for example, permits all types of marijuana businesses in its unincorporated areas, mostly near the Arizona and Mexico borders. Yet most cities in Imperial County (the three biggest are El Centro, Calexico and Brawley) have banned the industry, and none allow recreational shops.
There are also state-licensed marijuana stores that claim addresses in Carmel and Monterey, even though both of those cities block all marijuana businesses.
The shops are technically in unincorporated Monterey County, which allows all types of marijuana businesses. Same goes for a recreational shop “in Crescent City” that’s actually in unincorporated Del Norte County, and another with an address “in Fort Bragg” though it’s officially in unincorporated Mendocino County.
Local policies vs. voter wishes
In some cities and counties, cannabis industry rules contrast sharply with how residents there voted on Prop. 64.
In the top left corner of the chart you’ll find cities and counties where local leaders have passed liberal marijuana policies even though most of their constituents voted against Prop. 64.
Imperial County again stands out. Only 45 percent of unincorporated county residents there voted in favor of legalizing recreational marijuana. But the Imperial County Board of Supervisors voted in November to welcome every type of cannabis business, giving the area a score of 95.9 on our scale of permissiveness.
Oakdale and Riverbank, in Stanislaus County, are the only two cities in the state that welcome every type of recreational marijuana business even though a majority of residents in both cities voted against Prop. 64.
The opposite can be seen in the bottom right corner of the chart, which shows cities and counties where local leaders are sticking with strict cannabis policies even though more than two thirds of the voters in their communities were in favor of Prop. 64.
In Sausalito, in Marin County, 77 percent of voters supported legal weed, but city council members there have blocked all businesses and outdoor home gardens. The numbers are similar in the Bay Area city of Albany.
In other places, local policies are very much in line with voter wishes.
West Hollywood and Berkeley voters, for example, tied with a high of 83 percent of residents approving Prop. 64. Both cities also have liberal cannabis policies, just missing the leader board for most permissive cities in the state because they block commercial cultivation and other behind-the-scenes businesses.
Kingsburg, in Fresno County, also has policies that align with election numbers. Residents of the farming town opposed Prop. 64 more than anywhere else in California, with only 35 percent favoring marijuana legalization. And city council members have taken a similar stance, with policies that earn Kingsburg 0.5 out of 100 points on our scale of marijuana friendliness.