In December, state regulators released their final update to the legal framework that governs California’s cannabis industry. Initially, most of the reactions centered around what the rules prohibited: free samples, selling cannabis products without child-resistant packaging, compassionate-care programs accepting donations of flower, and any dispensaries located too close to schools. At present, however, one of the biggest battles facing the industry stems from something the regulations do permit: statewide delivery.
On April 4, the League of California Cities filed a lawsuit on behalf of 24 municipalities (and one county) against the state’s Bureau of Cannabis Control and its chief, Lori Ajax. Their grievance centers on a regulation approved in January that allows licensed operators to deliver cannabis to cities where brick and mortar operations are banned by local jurisdiction. Among the cities that joined were Beverly Hills, Turlock, San Pablo, Riverside, and Vacaville.
While this legal effort may seem laughable to anybody who enjoys the Bay Area’s diverse array of dispensaries, delivery services, and cultural events, it may in fact represent a very real concern for Californians who don’t live in the 20 percent of municipalities where recreational cannabis stores are allowed. For those residents, out-of-town delivery or a lengthy drive is often the only option available.
Some people have already decried the lawsuit as an effort to take cannabis away from select Californians based solely on their zip code. For Ellen Komp, Deputy Director of California NORML, this latest legal action represents an overreach on the part of local governments.
“They have authority to control land use in their borders, but not personal transactions,” Komp says. “What will they try to ban next, pizza deliveries?”
Beyond the questionable legal grounds underpinning this lawsuit, there’s also the matter of what will happen to patients who live in areas where delivery is the only option available.
“We’re especially concerned about medical patients,” Komp confirms, “many of them with mobility issues or without transportation, who depend on delivery services often located outside the borders of the cities or counties where they live.”
Komp expresses worry that medical patients who rely on deliveries will be the unintentional victims of delivery restrictions.
“In a situation where over two-thirds of the cities and counties of California are not licensing cannabis businesses — despite two-thirds of the counties voting to approve Prop. 64 — we can’t afford to interfere with delivery access for Californians who will likely be driven back to the black market without a licensed service they can use,” Komp says.
The issue has even reached the state legislature. On April 9, Assemblymember Ken Cooley proposed a measure to overturn the January regulation, although it failed to clear the Business and Professions Committee after a deadlocked 7-7 vote. Cooley will now have to wait a year before reintroducing AB 1530 — something that a representative from his office told the L.A. Times he has yet to decide on.
With resistance against statewide delivery mounting on multiple fronts, perhaps the most pertinent question is why? What is it that cities like Arcadia and Clovis have against the discreet door-to-door delivery of cannabis?
For Vacaville Police Chief John Carli, the issue comes down to cities having the final say.
“Local control is a very important aspect regarding cannabis delivery services,” Carli stated in an email to SF Weekly. “Safety is my top priority and [that] is disregarded when personal marijuana delivery is allowed without oversight. The transporting of product and cash together is a recipe for robberies. This will have unintended consequences.”
Following Carli’s logic, the concern isn’t cannabis delivery per se but rather that local authorities have no way of knowing what’s legal and what isn’t.
Additionally, and in somewhat of a roundabout way, Carli underscores the need for licensed cannabis sellers to have access to safe banking. How law enforcement actively protects against delivery robberies in municipalities where brick-and-mortar dispensaries are allowed is another pertinent question — albeit one that may potentially yield uneven answers.
For many delivery services, the League of California Cities lawsuit represents a critical threat to their livelihood. From big industry players like Eaze to more grassroots operations, this legal action represents a serious threat to their livelihood. (An Eaze representative declined to comment.)
“We’re motivated to expand coverage as quickly as possible, because we believe every Californian deserves safe and affordable access to cannabis. Outright bans and protectionist policies that favor local monopolies only serve to push more people into the black market,” says Ted Lichtenberger, co-founder and CEO of Flower Co.
Lichtenberger also notes that confusion over the nature of the law may be partly to blame.
“I believe that the common reading of the rules allowing for statewide delivery misunderstands the fact that those rules require folks to operate in good standing with local law,” he says. “There is no carte blanche to ignore local rules. Flower Co. has and will continue to comply with all local laws, even as we work to educate regulators on the benefits of safe access for every Californian.”
The industry will no doubt follow the outcome of this lawsuit, which has yet to secure a hearing date.
It’s hard to accept the League’s argument that the matter relates strictly to local control, but the law is not designed to favor logic over precedent. Should the plaintiffs prevail, it will mean that those living in a state with ostensibly legal recreational cannabis will only be able to access it in one-fifth of its cities. That’s a perverse outcome, and one with real consequences. Right now, sales are sagging, and the unregulated market has begun salivating at the prospect of more stringent and costly state regulations. Efforts to start putting genies back in their bottles may define what form the industry ultimately takes.