Like any system fighting corruption, delays, changes, and deadline upending often affect only those who can afford to waste the least capital. For cannabis retailers, that means any of the hundreds of social equity shops in Los Angeles that opened this year but are yet to receive their permits.
Instead of addressing the LA cannabis licensing situation, we see more of the usual—cart-pushing down the lane by officials while small businesses struggle to pick up the few pieces of clear information they cast off.
From the outside, it may seem small, but as a business owner competing with multiple growers, innovators, and retailers in the same neighborhoods, any quick pivot required in your business plan could mean success or failure, or even the difference between staying open or closing.
Licensing delays disproportionately affect small and minority-owned businesses whose overhead threatens their reserve funds and personal savings while they wait for a seal of approval from the council—something that officials might have noticed had they not been too busy sending each other personal barbs and offhand comments through official channels.
The Department of Cannabis Regulations and council members have to step back and remember who these retailers are meant to serve: the people. Not the other way around. By continually putting political differences (often small ones) in the way of meaningful change, LA cannabis legislation has become a financial experiment more than a socially equitable one that could pave the way for future districts if only they were allowed to play out naturally.
Upsides to New LA Cannabis Licensing
Despite these delays, there are some potential changes to the LA system that offer positive outcomes to small business owners should they be implemented:
- Longer timelines for social equity applicants to turn in paperwork or even refile applications.
- Updating definitions, including “owner,” in city statutes to better conform to state law.
- Allowing social equity applicants to move locations while keeping their licensure opportunities.
- Implementing “expedited” licensing procedures for applicants that are open to paying higher fees.
- Modernizing the definition of “undue concentration” for retailers to offer more business opportunities in specific neighborhoods.
- Allowing several social equity applicants to collectivize their “shares” in majority ownership of a particular business.
These changes, for both small and big companies, are just adding to the slew of considerations that cannabis businesses face—even in what is considered to be one of the “more mature” markets of cannabis in the United States. For now, retailers wait for the latest rollout of LA cannabis licensing changes with the same grim acceptance of a farmer watching incoming floods.
We are again forced to ask who these delays benefit in the greater context of cannabis legislation. Consistently changing rules does not allow anyone to study or understand the impacts of laws before they are taken back, written over, and changed once more. For LA cannabis licensing, one can’t help but stay glued to the news to see what might happen next and who it will affect the most.
Small businesses are past the point of asking politely—many will shutter if immediate changes to licensing delays are not implemented soon. With complaints against the council growing as more and more companies are denied or delayed in license processing due to these rapid and unpredictable shifts in legislation, we hope to see a more equitable conversation between governments and retailers emerge. How long and how many more complaints that will take is anyone’s guess.
Read more about how an entire state can quickly integrate new effective cannabis licensing here in the case of Connecticut and their beating New York to the compliant market.