Business & Economy

LA is still ironing out its rules on where pot shops can open

Cannabis is displayed at the Higher Path medical marijuana dispensary in the San Fernando Valley area of Los Angeles, California, December 27, 2017.
Cannabis is displayed at the Higher Path medical marijuana dispensary in the San Fernando Valley area of Los Angeles, California, December 27, 2017.
ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images

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We're now into the second month of legal recreational marijuana sales in Los Angeles — and some of the city's new regulations on the location of stores are causing concern for retailers.

The city already requires retailers to be 700 feet away from "sensitive use" locations like schools and public parks — places where unsupervised children gather. But the rules are still being written on what qualifies as a "sensitive use" site. And some in the local cannabis industry say the rules have become so broad that, on certain streets, they may even include traffic medians.  

"There can come a point where things get a little too heavy handed," said Adam Spiker, executive director of Southern California Coalition, a cannabis industry group.  

About a week before the city council passed its rules late last year, Councilman Mitch O'Farrell moved to add a new location restriction. He wanted to keep pot shops away from areas in the city zoned as "open space." 

"Councilmember O'Farrell's sole intention was to include the LA River, which is located in our district and zoned as open space," spokesman Tony Arranaga wrote in an email. "The river is currently used as a recreational resource for kids and families alike." 

The problem, industry advocates say, is that certain wide, landscaped center dividers are also zoned as "open space." A quick search of licensed pot shop addresses shows a few are located along or near streets with those traffic medians. 

Sarah Armstrong, director of industry affairs for Americans for Safe Access, said she agrees with maintaining a buffer zone between pot shops and recreational areas along the LA River.

"But when you do things like inadvertently include traffic medians in your list of sensitive uses, then you've kind of gone a step too far," Armstrong said. "Those are not places where children congregate unsupervised."

The Southern California Coalition and Americans For Safe Access sent a letter to city council members asking them to update their zoning rules to exclude traffic medians.

Spiker said the city has a tough job ahead, figuring out how to bring the cannabis industry out of the shadows and regulate it effectively. He hopes to see the city address this quirk in the zoning rules.

On Friday morning, the council's rules committee will consider another location restriction. It would require marijuana dispensaries to also keep their distance from public parks in other cities adjacent to Los Angeles.