The nation’s largest weed sector is ready to leave the grey market after years of fearing legal prosecution.
Friday 08/18/2017 by Madison Margolin // Merry Jane
On the steps of L.A. City Hall on Tuesday, dozens of cannabis industry activists gathered to fight for local licensing. At face value, the question at hand is simple, so simple some wonder why it’s even a question: in November, California citizens passed Proposition 64 to legalize marijuana — and an overwhelming majority of Angelenos voted for it. Then in March, 80 percent of L.A. voters passed Measure M, authorizing the city to establish a licensing, taxation, and regulatory structure for cannabis businesses. After that, cannabis industry representatives and concerned citizens gave input over months in public hearings as to how the city should regulate legal pot, repeatedly advocating for comprehensive permitting. Yet despite all those efforts, the latest draft regulations to come from the city council proposed to grant “limited immunity” to pot businesses, instead of issuing actual licenses.
L.A. is the only jurisdiction in any canna-legal state where a “limited immunity” model for businesses has even been considered. As the largest market in the cannabis industry — anticipating $700 million in total sales in the first year — L.A. is a leader for other localities, but the proposed regulations could spell failure for its own sector. “If L.A. adopted [limited immunity], other jurisdictions could move in that direction, too,” says Elizabeth Ashford, communications director for the Los Angeles Cannabis Task Force (LACTF). “If L.A. fails, the state market fails. You can’t have a portion of the market this size and have it not work.”
Following the afternoon rally, led by a coalition of organizations including United Cannabis Business Association (UCBA), UCFW Local 770 — a union which has successfully organized workers in L.A.’s cannabis sector — and LACTF, cannabis industry folk lined up en masse to give public comment during a packed session of the city council’s Rules Committee. Most spoke passionately in favor of licensing, among other issues like social equity and a local banking system for the cannabis industry. Even medical marijuana patients came to give testimony, speaking to the miracles of cannabis treatments, asking city officials to ensure the health of the industry; some however, feared that the cost of getting licensed would hike up the prices of medical marijuana. “If the prices go up, I can’t afford to live,” testified cancer patient Jenny Pagliaro. Yet, without licensing, many in the cannabis industry might not be able to survive, either.
“We want stability, that’s what we’ve been dying to have all these years,” says Aaron Justis, CEO of L.A. dispensary Buds & Roses and board member of the Greater Los Angeles Collective Alliance. “Limited immunity is too unstable. We can be shut down at any time; that’s no way to run a business. We’d have to prove we’re following all these rules, and they’d say, ‘Okay, you have immunity, you can stay open,’ until the next time they come to shut you down. Limited immunity is not an authorization to operate.”
What limited immunity is, however, has yet to be clearly defined — that’s the problem, and that’s what distinguishes it from a discrete, legitimate license. Presumably, limited immunity would give businesses a defense to alleged violations, explains attorney Michael Chernis, who represents clients in the cannabis industry.
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