Why is legal marijuana taking so long to reach Californians? Blame local officials

On Jan. 6, an employee stocks cannabis at a store shortly before its first day of recreational marijuana sales in San Francisco.
On Jan. 6, an employee stocks cannabis at a store shortly before its first day of recreational marijuana sales in San Francisco. AP

Two years ago, California voters approved the regulated use of cannabis by a wide margin. From the Emerald Triangle to the Inland Empire, from the Bay Area to the Southland, Californians discarded old biases and embraced new opportunities for economic growth and social justice.

Along with legalization, the passage of Proposition 64 ended California’s war on drugs, which disproportionately criminalized the poor and people of color. The California Democratic Party adopted decriminalization of cannabis in its platform in 2016.

Despite the overwhelming voter support and decades of progress, nearly 85 percent of California residents still live without access to legal recreational cannabis. This is unacceptable and must change now.

Local and state regulators have been slow to issue licenses to the thousands of cannabis businesses across the state that have operated in good faith and were expecting a functioning legal marketplace by now. Instead, many of these businesses are faced with a difficult choice — close and lose their livelihood while waiting for the state bureaucracy to act, or operate in the shadows without a license, which was what Proposition 64 was designed to prevent.


Local elected and appointed officials are ignoring the will of the people. Since a cannabis business cannot get a state license unless it already has a local one, the state and local governments must streamline their permitting processes. The goal must be to ensure that the dual license system works to help businesses grow and lift up communities in need. In addition, state and local law enforcement must stop targeting small and minority-owned businesses that are trying to comply with the rules but are hamstrung by red tape. By the end of this month, the California Bureau of Cannabis Control is to decide whether to allow marijuana deliveries throughout the state.

The revenues that will be generated from the new cannabis economy will help propel our state forward by providing valuable community services, including public health and education. Poor communities have waited long enough for economic and social change. Millions of dollars of revenue for the state and local jurisdictions are being lost. Thousands of stable, good paying jobs are not being created.

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Alexandra Gallardo-Rooker

Other places with progressive leadership understand this. Denver, for example, has only 600,000 residents, but has more licensed dispensaries than the five largest cities in California combined, which have a total population of more than 7.3 million.

The state Democratic Party has led on this issue for years. We’re the party of responsive, progressive action, and we have a proud history of fixing bad social policy, listening to our constituents and acting on their behalf. When voters tell us at the ballot box to get to work, we respond.

So let’s stop wasting more time hemming and hawing over conclusions that California voters clearly and overwhelmingly have already reached. Cities and counties throughout the Golden State must start issuing licenses to cannabis businesses.

Alexandra Gallardo-Rooker is a vice chairwoman of the California Democratic Party. She can be contacted at


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