Earlier this year, California Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco) introduced Assembly Bill 1356 (“AB 1356”) in an effort to increase the number of cannabis dispensaries across California. The bill requires any city or county that voted 50% or more in favor of Proposition 64 (the California voter initiative that legalized adult-use cannabis) to issue one cannabis retail license for every six onsite liquor consumption licenses or for every 15,000 residents, whichever is less. This would represent a significant increase in dispensaries and have significant implications for certain municipalities and counties that currently ban cannabis dispensaries altogether. For perspective, there are a reported 631 cannabis shops operating legally right now; if AB 1356 is approved, that number could more than triple.
While Proposition 64 legalized the sale of cannabis for recreational use in California, local governments currently have the authority to prohibit the sale of cannabis and may require businesses to obtain a permit to operate a dispensary. According to the analysis by Assemblymember Ting’s office, 255 municipalities and 21 counties in California expressly ban cannabis dispensaries. In Orange County, for example, Santa Ana is the only city that allows cannabis dispensaries.
Those who oppose AB 1356—including the League of California Cities, which represent the State’s municipalities—argue that the state government is trying to strip away the autonomy and authority that Proposition 64 bestowed on local governments, which is the power to decide whether or not to allow cannabis dispensaries. This autonomy was critical to generating support for Proposition 64 in the first place. Conversely, supporters of AB 1356 believe that many municipalities and counties are stifling the growth of the cannabis industry and undermining the intent of Proposition 64. Assemblymember Ting gave voice to those concerns by stating that “[m]any cities and counties are currently not providing this access to their medically challenged constituents, even when a majority of their constituents voted for Prop. 64. Banning and limiting access to cannabis in these jurisdictions only fuels the illicit market in our state.”
The bill passed out of the Assembly Business and Professions Committee on a 12-7 vote last month and it is currently under review before the Fiscal Committee. We will continue to follow AB 1356 as it continues to move through the legislative process.