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It’s Legal To Sell Weed In L.A.—But It’s Not Easy

Business wants to boom, but the city of Los Angeles is, in reality, one of the most contentious, complex, and gridlocked legal-marijuana markets in the United States

Halfway through the summer, Humberto “Junior” Martinez went to visit a friend who owns a legal-marijuana store in LA’s San Fernando Valley. Martinez and the friend both got into the cannabis industry a decade ago, but over time, the vagaries of pot policy in Los Angeles left a wide gap in their fortunes.

“Hey Junior!” the shop owner said when he saw Martinez surveying the shelves of bud from his wheelchair, the result of a 2007 motorcycle accident. “What are you up to these days?”

“Just trying to get legal, man,” Martinez responded.

“Aw, well, don’t worry. You’ll work it out!”

Easy for him to say, Martinez thought. Both men had been running quasi-legal marijuana businesses, paying their taxes and playing nice with the city in the hopes that someday, the government would grant their dispensaries the same protections as any other legitimate store. But now, more than nine months after recreational marijuana sales were legalized in California, Martinez had been left behind, while his friend enjoyed the spoils of owning one of only 169 licensed pot shops in the city of LA.

For Martinez, the situation didn’t feel fair. This wasn’t about entrepreneurial talent, hard work, or following the law. In the end, the factors that allowed his friend’s shop to succeed and left him struggling were largely ones he never would have considered back in 2009: location, bolstered by luck, money, and influence.

In 21st-century Los Angeles, every block seems to boast at least one storefront with the familiar green cross and cheesy wordplay (“High Society Wellness Center”; “The Pottery”), and every parking lot a cloud of pungent stank, left behind by recently vanished tokers. But in the era of legal weed, there is far more going on than can be seen from a passing car.

Only a small fraction of the pot shops peppering the sprawl of the country’s second-largest city are actually legal. LA City Controller Ron Galperin estimates that, beyond the 169 that are licensed, another 1,700 illicit marijuana dispensaries areoperating 1 within city limits.

Los Angeles is widely agreed to be the biggest and most important cannabis economy in the world, with a few million consumers, tens of thousands of workers, and billions of dollars each year in sales. It is also, from a business and government standpoint, one of the most contentious, complex, and gridlocked legal-marijuana markets in the United States.

Most other major California cities began permitting marijuana dispensaries years ago, when only medical was legal, but Los Angeles waited—leaving LA cannabis businesses especially vulnerable to the whims of law enforcement and prosecutors. So while U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s anti-pot perspective is more likely to garner headlines, the anti-pot actions of LA’s city and district attorneys have had a much greater impact here on the ground.

“In almost every state where they have legal cannabis, you have to have a license from your local government. And this isn’t the same as zoning a liquor store. This is way more complex. It’s hyperlocal,” says Amanda Ostrowitz, the CEO of CannaRegs, a company whose software tracks the intricacies of city and county marijuana regulations as they develop in seven states.

To Read The Rest Of This Article By Amanda Chicago Lewis on Curbed Los Angeles

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Published: October 24, 2018

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