I (James DeAguilera) have been asked to explain the requirements for zoning (city licenses) for marijuana businesses. Each City in California (there are 254 Cities) handles the zoning permits for marijuana licenses a little different. Many of the cities do not permit marijuana businesses at all. This is the reason we are working hard on the delivery licenses. A delivery license from any city will allow delivery of marijuana to any other city (or county) in California. The delivery can be made to any physical address.
The basic requirements for the city (and county) zoning and licensing for marijuana businesses are as follows:
1. The Planning Commission and City Council must first pass an Ordinance (a local law) to permit marijuana businesses. Some cities permit deliveries, storefront dispensaries, cultivation and/or manufacturing.
2. After the Planning Commission and City Council pass the local law to permit the marijuana business the City Planning Department sets up the planning permit process, the applications that have to be filed to obtain the city license.
3. Typically the cities zone only a specific area of the city for marijuana businesses. For example, usually, the delivery businesses and the cultivation or manufacturing is required to operate in an industrial zone. Storefront dispensaries are in commercial zoning areas. There are, of course, distance requirements from sensitive uses such as schools or playgrounds. This is also part of the state law.
4. Usually, the cities will set a time to accept applications for marijuana business permits. For example, a city may set a 3-month “window” to accept the applications.
5. The application to the city for the marijuana business license must include a site plan and floor plans of the property usually prepared by a civil engineer or an architect.
6. The city will require application fees for the marijuana business permit. These city application fees usually are about $10,000. I know some cities have tried to require much larger fees. However, if the fee charged by the city exceeds the cost to the city for processing the application, the “fee” becomes a “tax.” Taxes require a vote of the people. I don’t know of any cities being sued for requiring “fees” for marijuana businesses that are too high (exceed the cost of the approval process)
7. After the applications for the marijuana business licenses are received the city staff, usually working with consultants will screen the applications and determine which applicants are qualified to go forward to the next phase of the permit process. Typically the cities limit the number of marijuana business permits that will be issued so there is competition to get the required license.
8. The zoning requirements are typically for a site plan approval. The city may also require a conditional use permit. The City Planners can process site plan approvals in about 60-90 days where conditional use permits which must be approved by the Planning Commission and some times by the City Council can take six months or more to get approved. There are some questions over whether cities can require Conditional Use Permits for marijuana businesses. Again, I don’t know of any cases on this subject.
9. The cities approval processes for marijuana businesses must also comply with the California Environmental Quality Act. This means there must be an environmental review and an issuance of a negative declaration or an environmental impact report.
If you have any questions about city zoning requirements for marijuana licenses you can contact my office.