Licensing for Commercial Cannabis in California

Tips For Approaching Municipalities

Today in cities and counties across California, local legislators and their staff are looking toward 2018, a major election year that also happens to coincide with the official start of state-level licensing for commercial cannabis in our state. For operators seeking these state licenses, receiving local authorization from a county or city government will be their highest priority throughout 2018. But despite the growing social acceptance of cannabis, structural and cultural barriers are impeding necessary progress at the local level. Therefore, it is our pleasure at Hoban Law Group to provide a few tips for how to successfully navigate this unique part of “getting legal” for cannabusinesses in California.

1) All Politics Is Local
Right now (late October 2017) relatively few cities and counties have created any form of local permitting for cannabis business. To make matters worse, this scarcity has created a highly speculative marketplace in those few legally permitting jurisdictions. Therefore finding a jurisdiction that is on the precipice of permitting is essential to avoid paying too much for your property.

Determining whether a city or county is about to “open” can often be predicted looking at several social factors. In our practice we often look at a jurisdiction's political structure, economic stability, resident demographics, and recent history around cannabis before advising a client whether or not it is a good idea to invest their time in approaching that municipality.

2) Have Realistic Expectations For Your Business
Do not sign long-term, expensive leases for land or equipment unless you are certain that your business can thrive (and grow) in the municipality you are looking to operate inside of. While getting a local permit and a state license is obviously essential in 2018, waiting a month or two to find a business friendly jurisdiction that wants your company (and the revenue/employment it is going to generate) is far better than signing a long-term lease in a city with high taxes and a negative attitude toward commercial cannabis.

3) Be Aware of Promises Made During Reelection Season
Plenty of cities and counties announce “exploratory” meetings for commercial cannabis or “open town halls” on the subject, but never follow through with favorable legislation. Do not mistake political self-promotion during re-election season as a sign that a city is “close to opening”. Additionally, do not donate to campaigns or candidates unless you are certain that the individual is a sincere ally of the cause of ending drug prohibition through sensible regulation of the cannabis market. Unethical campaign solicitations from politicians can get innocent operators accused of serious malfeasance.  

4) It’s Not Personal, It’s Strictly Business
Unless the survival of your brand or operation depends on you operating in your hometown, try not to bring the “weed wars” into your backyard. Personal connections to influential politicians can be extremely helpful with pushing them towards adopting sensible policies regarding cannabis, but if things do not work out with regards to a new ordinance or ballot initiative, be prepared for that friendship to be drastically changed. Therefore, any cannabis activism that you do in your own neighborhood should air on the side of professionality.

Stefan Borst-Censullo is Counsel to Hoban Law Group. He is an attorney, public policy expert and writer based out of Long Beach, California. He is a proud alumnus of Brandeis University where he studied contemporary West African Politics, the African Diaspora, and systemic effects of de jure racial discrimination in American society. He received his Juris Doctorate from Whittier Law School, where he specialized in Children’s Rights and issues related to welfare policy. He came into the world of cannabis reform after years of community activism in and around Long Beach. His work as a Legislative Director for the City of Long Beach and opposition researcher/political strategist provides him unmatched insight into the esoteric world of local politics. Additionally he is a prolific blogger with published work in Vice and Bitter Empire. He can be reached at