California Weed

Think you’ll be able to buy recreational marijuana in Sacramento Jan. 1? Think again

Recreational weed is now legal in California. So what does that mean?

In January 2018, state and local authorities will begin issuing licenses for the sale of legal recreational marijuana. But what do you need to know before you rush to the dispensary? Information courtesy of
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In January 2018, state and local authorities will begin issuing licenses for the sale of legal recreational marijuana. But what do you need to know before you rush to the dispensary? Information courtesy of

When recreational marijuana sales became legal in Nevada on July 1, customers were lined up around the block of a dispensary near downtown Reno, eager to buy buds. In Las Vegas, cannabis enthusiasts showed up in limos and tour buses, ready to participate in the opening-day pot festivities.

Similar scenes are unlikely to occur across the state when California allows adults to legally buy marijuana Jan. 1. Very few places in the capital region, for example, are considering allowing retail sales or delivery of cannabis, and the ones that are don’t expect sales to begin by the start of the year.

Sacramento and Davis may allow dispensaries to sell pot to adults for recreational use, while other cities and counties already have voted against allowing retail sales. The city of Sacramento is the only place in the region planning to allow commercial cultivation of recreational pot, although Yolo County is permitting commercial growing of medical marijuana.

The Sacramento City Council expects to discuss retail sales and delivery at its Nov. 28 meeting. At least some of the city’s 30 medical marijuana dispensaries are interested in selling recreational weed, said the city’s pot czar, Joe Devlin. Delivery companies also are interested in selling pot, and they could become dispensaries without a storefront, he said.

By 56 percent of the vote in November of last year, Californians legalized recreational use of marijuana for adults 21 and over. The historic passage of Proposition 64 came two decades after state voters approved medical use. Last year’s vote also gave local governments the authority to regulate or ban marijuana businesses. The lengthy process of creating local and state regulations has yet to make clear when, where and how recreational pot will be grown and sold.

In addition to local city and county permits, retail sale operations also must receive approval from the California Bureau of Cannabis Control, which won’t accept applications for retail licenses until December. While the bureau can issue temporary licenses by the first of the year, it expects initial interest only from a few cities that have regulations or soon will approve them, spokesman Alex Traverso said. Those places include Oakland and Adelanto, a Mojave Desert town that the mayor has billed as “the Silicon Valley of medical marijuana.”

“(Recreational marijuana) is not going to be as easy to find as some people expect,” Traverso said.

Only a handful of local governments have approved regulations for the sale of recreational marijuana, according to Traverso and officials at the League of California Cities and the California State Association of Counties. Cities in the Bay Area and Southern California are crafting commercial cannabis regulations, but many places in the rest of the state have been silent on the issue.

Regulatory uncertainty has created questions about the immediate future of the estimated $4 billion cannabis industry in California. “We don’t know what the rules are,” said Caity Maple, a Sacramento lobbyist representing the California Cannabis Courier Association. “It’s kind of scary for the industry.”

Some in the industry have become wary about investing in a market that remains without defined rules and worry that they could end up banned by local jurisdictions after starting a business that previously had seemed welcome. Growers are facing that possibility in Calaveras County, where a new majority on the Board of Supervisors has changed course from the previous board that had embraced marijuana.

Following the devastating Butte Fire that scorched vast areas of the county in 2015, the Board of Supervisors last year plotted a comeback by seeking to take advantage of marijuana business by taxing and licensing for-profit cultivation. However, after residents complained about environmental and safety issues, a newly elected board now is considering walking back on issued permits.

Some local governments have been waiting for the state to complete its regulations for marijuana before approving their own, Traverso said. The bureau was in the process of updating medical rules when Gov. Jerry Brown signed SB 94 at the end of June, forcing the bureau to scrap those rules and write a new set for medical and recreational marijuana. The rules are expected to be released Nov. 16.

Local governments don’t have to regulate or ban retail marijuana activity. In some communities, past opposition of medical marijuana makes future approval of recreational pot seem less likely. The state is also less likely to approve retail licenses in cities without local regulations supporting such sales, said Tim Cromartie of the League of California Cities.

Cara Martinson at the California State Association of Counties said the picture of where communities stand may take a while to fill out. “You’re going to see a slow evolution at the local level,” she said “I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. A thoughtful process is necessary.”

Martinson predicts that more cities and counties eventually will allow recreational marijuana businesses than ban them, reflecting the wishes of voters. A majority of voters supported Proposition 64 in 41 of the state’s 58 counties. In the capital region, voters in El Dorado, Placer and Yolo counties rejected the measure, while Sacramento County voters backed it.

For local governments, legalized marijuana provides a strong incentive – additional tax revenue as pension costs and other expenses rise. But local officials also worry about potential increases in crime, pollution and other problems associated with the industry. Those problems are expected to bring additional costs – more police, code-enforcement officers and development planners.

The Sacramento City Council recently wrestled with these issues, after the city had shown more willingness to welcome the cannabis industry than neighboring communities. Some council members are worried about a report from the Office of the City Auditor that found some dispensaries were underreporting tax revenue and failing to follow city regulations on smoking on-site and how many plants can be sold.

Several council members have said they won’t support retail licenses for dispensaries found in violation of city regulations in the recent audit. Devlin said it will be months before businesses are selling recreational weed in Sacramento.

The city has registered 70 indoor cultivation operations and has permit applications for about another 50, he said. Residents in North Sacramento have expressed concern about a cluster of pot grows in warehouses near Del Paso Boulevard.

Sacramento is poised to handle much of the region’s recreational weed business as neighboring communities have shown little interest in the so-called “green rush.” Davis has received 13 applications for up to four available permits for commercial marijuana dispensaries in town, which the City Council will consider sometime in the first three months of next year, said Ashley Feeney, assistant director of Community Development & Sustainability.

Other cities and counties in the region have banned retail sales, including Sacramento County, Folsom, Roseville and Elk Grove. County bans apply only to unincorporated areas.

Local governments in the region also have banned marijuana cultivation, other than allowing up to six plants at home for medical or personal use, as required under state law. Yolo County is one exception, as it allows commercial cultivation of medical marijuana. The county has approved 68 grow operations.

In Calaveras County, the idea of banning commercial marijuana cultivation has led to several contentious supervisor meetings. Martinson, of the California State Association of Counties, calls Calaveras “ground zero in the legalization debate in California.”

The county has 181 approved growers, with another 250 to 300 awaiting application decisions, said county administrator Timothy Lutz. Residents have complained about the potential for water contamination and increased crime from marijuana operations, claims that the growers and their supporters dispute. If the country decides to outlaw marijuana grows, it would create an estimated $14 million hole in the annual county budget from lost tax revenue.

Supervisors last month voted to send the issue back to the Planning Commission to see if regulations could be created that would keep the growers in business, while still addressing resident complaints.

Supervisor Gary Tofanelli said he hoped to find a solution that works for both sides. The Planning Commission is scheduled to revisit the issue Nov. 29 and supervisors expect to receive the commission’s new recommendations before the end of the year.

“As much as the Butte Fire, and even more, the winter storms, brought us together as a county, this issue has cut and divided us completely,” Tofanelli said. “Each side has dug a trench.”

April 20, known in the cannabis community as "Weed Day," was commemorated at the "Hella 420" smoke out at Exhale Smoke Shop. For $45 - $75, participants were privy to an open cannabis bar and more.

Local pot laws

In the capital region, very few local governments have allowed cultivation of medical marijuana beyond what state law mandates, and most have banned dispensaries from selling it. While some communities have banned commercial sales and cultivation, most have not taken a stand. The following are the laws that local governments have on the books. Under Proposition 64, local governments can no longer ban indoor cultivation for personal use and must allow the growing of up to six plants per residence.




El Dorado County

Personal medical use only


Placer County

Personal medical use only



Personal medical use only


Sacramento County

Personal medical use only



Medical and commercial allowed

For medical use


Personal medical use only


Elk Grove

Personal medical use only


Yolo County

Personal and commercial medical



Personal medical use only

Recreational/medical retail

Compiled by Brad Branan

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