Los Angeles is about to become the largest city in the United States to allow the growth and sale of recreational marijuana after its city council unanimously voted last week to approve the proposed framework for its regulation. The council’s approval is the culmination of months of meetings in which officials hashed out the details of new policies in order to get laws on track before the January 1 deadline for recreational legalization. All eyes are now on LA as the city pioneers this vast and ever-changing frontier. So what does this new framework look like?
Currently, the state of California plans on regulating marijuana much like it does alcohol. It will set a minimum legal age of 21 for people to be able to carry up to an ounce on their person and to grow up to six pot plants at home. The new city-approved rules follow a similar formula by setting limits, for example, on the number of cannabis businesses that can operate within each neighborhood. On top of that, there will be specific zoning of areas in which shops can legally operate. Zoning will include mandatory distances between cannabis-related places of business and what are deemed “sensitive sites”, such as schools, public parks and drug treatment centers. For instance, retail businesses have to be at least 700 feet away from these sites while non-retail and delivery businesses are required to be at least 600 feet away. Retail shops will also be banned altogether from specific neighborhoods such as Warner Center, Playa Vista, and areas around LA Live and USC.
Businesses will also have to get licensed by both the city and the state’s new Bureau of Cannabis Control in order to legally operate. The proposed hours of operation for the weed shops would be 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. However, the executive director of the Los Angeles Department of Cannabis Regulation has stated that the city would have the authority to adjust those hours for certain shops depending on the needs of certain locations.
Another feature of the new framework is a council-approved “social equity” program, designed to assist people with minor marijuana arrests on their record and residents in low-income communities affected by the war on drugs in opening cannabis businesses. On the other hand, the rules would ban people convicted of violent felonies or selling marijuana, tobacco or alcohol to minors from receiving a license for up to 10 years.
The new regulations are not without their share of unresolved issues. As LA Council President Herb Wesson pointed out, one such monkey wrench in the works is that their new rules do not allow for on-site consumption of cannabis at retail shops. Industry activists argue that this would leave some people without a legal place to consume marijuana. Bruce Margolin, the executive director of the L.A. chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, illustrates this by pointing out that many hotels and apartment buildings ban smoking. Furthermore, consumption would not be allowed in public under the new laws. Which leaves access to a private residence as the only other option, something that is not available to all citizens and which results in a situation that Margolin calls “completely unfair”. Wesson has stated that the city will continue to study this issue.
While the new regulations do still need to be fine-tuned, Council President Herb Wesson hopes that Los Angeles will become a role model for the rest of the nation. As he stated, “Today is our moment to begin to set the tone for the rest of the country. We are a big city. We do big stuff. That’s who we are. That’s how we roll.”