Pot Predictions: What to Watch for in California in 2020

As year three of adult-use sales gets underway, legitimate concerns for the industry remain.

It can sometimes feel as though the cannabis industry is aging in dog years.

Those who can remember all the way back to 2017 may recall that the entrance to the Bay Bridge was not, in fact, always lined with billboards for big corporate pot outfits like Eaze and Weedmaps.  Believe it or not, in those days, most people had also yet to hear about the wonders of CBD — let alone the suggestion that it be consumed by means of an infused pumpkin spice latte.

From the rapid-fire rise and fall of cannabis party buses to a hard-fought battle to get compassionate care donations tax-exempt, the changes have certainly been fast and furious.  Still, somehow, 2020 will mark the beginning of only the third full year since recreational sales went into effect across California.

Well, that was supposed to be the plan.

The vision for Proposition 64 was ostensibly to make adult sales legal throughout the state, but the reality is that less than 25 percent of California cities currently allow for legal sales — a position made possible by stipulations in Prop 64 which provide municipalities with the choice to limit or outright ban cannabis businesses from operating within their jurisdiction if they so desire.

One element of the industry exempted from such bans? Delivery services, which have been stepping in to get product to those who reside in areas without physical dispensaries.

In response, 24 cities (including Beverly Hills, Tracy, and Vacaville) teamed with Santa Cruz County to file a lawsuit against the California Bureau of Cannabis Control (BCC) on April 4. Their collective demand is that the courts overturn a rule that permits weed deliveries throughout the state, even in cities that have otherwise banned the industry.

Nearly a year later, a trial is currently scheduled to begin on April 20 (seriously).

In November, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra separately filed a motion on the BCC’s behalf to join a lawsuit being brought by East of Eden Cannabis Co., a Salinas delivery service suing Santa Cruz County for banning deliveries from companies not licensed by the county itself. Given the sheer volume of cannabis consumers living in areas without a physical dispensary who would potentially be affected should local governments win the right to ban deliveries, the outcome of this litigation will be one of the biggest storylines to follow in 2020.

In San Francisco, several noteworthy dispensaries continue to move closer to finally opening their doors following lengthy permitting processes.

The city’s first dispensary to open under San Francisco’s Social Equity Program is a few weeks old, but expect to hear a lot more about this pot shop located at 1685 Haight St. That’s because San Francisco native Shawn M. Richard, the first applicant to be approved to open a dispensary under the city’s equity program, has Bay Area musician Berner as his business partner.

Thanks to the enormous popularity of Berner’s Cookies brand — a continually expanding Bay Area enterprise that counts cannabis strains, dispensaries, and a fashion line among its offerings — it’s likely this dispensary, located mere blocks from the Stanyan entrance to Golden Gate Park, will be looking to have a banner year right out of the gate.

In Union Square, Alexis Bronson and his business partners will continue their fight to open a dispensary at 152 Geary St. The issue stems from his Union Square neighbors, which include luxury retail chain Chanel, who are challenging Bronson’s proposal to turn the vacant storefront into a high-end dispensary. Though plans for the pot shop at 152 Geary have been in motion since the start of 2018, Bronson will now need to wait for Feb. 2 to argue his case before the San Francisco Planning Commission.

While the outcome of that case remains to be seen, equity applicant Joseph Hunt is fresh from a Planning Commission victory in December that will allow for his Mission District dispensary, Union Station, to move forward. Hunt has emphasized his focus on hiring local and his own past arrests as motivation for wanting to open a dispensary under the city’s social equity program.

One point of contention in getting his permit finalized stemmed over whether Union Station would be allowed to host an on-site consumption lounge. Apparently convinced that offering cannabis consumers a safe, legal place to enjoy their purchases was not a terrible idea, the Planning Commission — with the exception of Commissioner Frank Fung — gave their approval for a consumption lounge in a Dec. 6 vote.

As we settle into 2020, new storylines and obstacles will assuredly emerge, but while we wait, the outcome of deliveries and the success of new dispensaries are two things to keep a close eye on.

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