Recreational marijuana may be legal in California, but much of the state remains a “pot desert,” according to a Sacramento Bee analysis of state licensing data.
Three months into the rollout of commercial marijuana, residents in about 40 percent of the state have to drive 60 miles or more to find a licensed dispensary to buy legal marijuana. These areas can be considered “pot deserts,” borrowing from a term often applied to healthy food and grocery stores.
While that might sound like hyperbole for a product like cannabis, remember that many people use marijuana for medicine and dispensaries are supposed to replace medical marijuana collectives that previously served patients.
The reason for the dearth of dispensaries across much of the state is simple local control. The legalization initiative, Proposition 64, gave local government the authority to ban or regulate commercial cannabis. Many communities have chosen to ban.
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Industry officials say the local bans harm patients, threaten the financial viability of California’s nascent commercial market and do not reflect the will of voters, who approved Prop. 64 by 57 percent. Local government officials say not all communities with bans expect them to be permanent.
The industry is hoping to improve the situation with a bill, SB 1302, that would allow cannabis delivery in communities with local bans. The bill, by Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, could face opposition from local governments that see their control as an essential component of Prop 64.
To create this map
The Bee analyzed the 284 adult-use retail dispensaries that were issued licenses by early March in the state by the California Bureau of Cannabis Control and found:
- 30 percent of the state is within 30 miles of at least one dispensary. These are mostly the metro areas for the state’s biggest cities, including Los Angeles, San Francisco and Sacramento.
- 29 percent of the state is between 30 and 60 miles of a dispensary.
- The biggest part of the state, 38 percent, is between 60 and 120 miles of a dispensary.
Eastern California — from Oregon to Mexico — has the longest drive times to dispensaries.