California’s cannabis turf
California’s cannabis regulations are a local patchwork, with the city of Sacramento capped at 30 dispensaries
It has been three years since California voters passed Proposition 64, The Adult Use of Marijuana Act. That should have been enough time for state and local authorities to sort out all the legal and regulatory implications of legalization, right?
Yet some local governments are still fighting over marijuana policy, changing their minds—and then changing their minds again. There are also the feds to deal with, and new regulations come out of the state Capitol on a semi-regular basis.
With that said, let's take a look at the state of pot regulations in the Sacramento region and Northern California. Under Prop. 64, an individual can possess as much as 1 ounce of cannabis and smoke it in private. People can still get harassed by cops for smoking in public, but that depends on the policies of the local police department.
You are also allowed to grow as many as six marijuana plants for personal use. Local jurisdictions still get some say in this, with regulations that say you must grow either indoors or outdoors, screen outdoor plants from view, lock your doors and so on. Cities and counties may or may not require a permit for the six plants. Keep in mind this is personal use only, so no selling to the neighborhood kids or grannies from the six plants growing in your greenhouse.
But what if you want to go further than just personal recreational use? What if you have dreams of building a green empire, owning your very own pot emporium and selling to the masses, or growing fields of ganja next to that snooty vineyard? Well, that depends on where you're located. Under Prop. 64, it's still up to local jurisdictions, whether you can sell or grow cannabis commercially.
Let's break this down: First, commercial sales. If you want to be the kind of legit drug dealer your mom can brag about to her friends, you need to find somewhere that will let you open a commercial pot operation. This info is also important for those who wish to buy legally and not mess with grow-your-own. In SN&R's readership area, it's the city of Sacramento and, well, not much else. The city limited the number of cannabis dispensaries to 30, 29 of which can sell for recreational use.
Twenty-nine is good for consumers, there are a lot of choices and you won't have far to drive. But the city is at the limit it set on the total number of shops, though officials are talking about adding five dispensary licenses, reserved for applicants in the city's equity program.
Sacramento County, however, has banned commercial sales, so no shops in Carmichael, Fair Oaks or the other suburbs. The cities of Citrus Heights, Elk Grove, Folsom, Rancho Cordova, Roseville and Rocklin likewise have commercial sales bans in effect. But little Isleton would love to host your shop.
Just across the river, West Sacramento has a commercial ban, as does Woodland and Yolo County. The city of Davis has several permitted shops, but is no longer accepting applications for additional locations.
In fact, leaving Sacramento County in most directions will still leave you dry and most certainly not high, as Nevada, Placer, Sutter and Yuba counties also prohibit sales. But all is not lost—El Dorado County now allows commercial sales, thanks to a local ballot measure passed last year. Both the city of Stockton and surrounding San Joaquin County also allow sales.
Remember, after you find a local jurisdiction that will let you open the shop, you still need approval from the state of California, which means more paperwork and more fees. Legit doesn't come cheap, or easy.
What about commercial growing? Got a green thumb and want to share it with the world? Well, maybe you can, depending on where you live. Let's focus on the counties, because the counties have most of the open land one might need for the growing of stuff—be it corn or almonds or Lady Jane.
No commercial grows in Sacramento County: Got 20 acres out by the Sac International Airport that would be just perfect? Too bad! Placer, Sutter, Yuba, Amador and Solano counties all have outlawed commercial growing. Not all of the Foothill counties have said no, however. The Nevada County Board of Supervisors approved commercial grows in May and El Dorado County now allows commercial grows after voters approved a ballot measure in 2018.
Then there is Calaveras County, whose regulations have had more plot twists than a major motion picture. First the county approved commercial growing. Then after hundreds of grow permit applications were filed, millions in fees collected and crops planted came the political backlash.
County supervisors then voted to ban commercial grows, leaving those who had paid tens of thousands of dollars in application fees in the lurch and more than a few farmers having to pull up crops and sell their harvests in a hurry. But in October, supervisors, facing political pressure from the other side, changed course again and voted to recognize 190 of the growing permits already issued and allow them to operate. There's no guarantee that after the next election, the board won't swing back in the other direction.
Finally, commercial growing is allowed in Yolo County, but there are currently ordinance changes underway that will make getting permits more difficult. It's not a ban, but if the changes being considered by the Yolo County Planning Commission in December are eventually passed by the Board of Supervisors, it's going to get much more difficult and expensive to get growing permits in Yolo. But hey, #YOLO.
Don't forget, just like commercial selling, you also need a state license for commercial growing in addition to local approval. The state currently has 17 different categories of permits for cannabis cultivation, depending on the size and the indoor/outdoor location of the crop. So good luck with the paperwork.
What does this all mean? It means cannabis regulation in the region remains a patchwork, and your location very much determines what you can do and how far you have to drive to buy legal weed. For those interested in how these issues turn out, pay attention to what your local government is doing, lobby your local officials to do the right thing, and for the love of Krishna, vote for the right people in your local elections.