California kicks off recreational sales on New Year's Day, becoming the largest state in the nation with legal marijuana. But Los Angeles officials announced Friday that dispensaries in the city won't be part of the celebration.
The city won't begin accepting applications to sell legal recreational pot until Jan. 3, and it could take weeks before those businesses are properly licensed with the city and state and open their doors.
"Come Jan. 1 in the city of Los Angeles, there are no legal, adult-use sales," Cat Packer, who heads the city's Department of Cannabis Regulation, told reporters at City Hall.
"We are starting a process. This is something that is not going to happen overnight," Packer said.
Los Angeles is California's largest pot market and the opening of legal sales was widely anticipated. In March, 80 percent of city voters endorsed a ballot measure that set in motion creation of the new pot marketplace.
The decision to delay licensing, even for several weeks, was a disappointment for growers and sellers who have feared they could be squeezed out of the market if LA lagged in licensing.
"It's a scary time for the operators," said Adam Spiker, executive director of the Southern California Coalition, a marijuana industry group.
"It's not just the retailers. There is still complete uncertainty to other aspects of the industry," such as cultivation and transportation, he added. "At the end of the day, the city is not ready."
Los Angeles struggled for months to get rules in place to license businesses for legal sales, only agreeing to guidelines earlier this month. Packer was hired in August, just months before legalization kicked in.
Under Los Angeles rules, neighborhoods would be largely off-limits to pot businesses, and buffer zones would be set up around schools, libraries and parks. The city has long been a hive of unlicensed dispensaries, and hundreds have been shut down.
So far, legalization has resulted in a patchwork of regulations around California.
Santa Cruz, San Diego, Shasta Lake, San Jose and West Hollywood are among the cities where businesses have been authorized for recreational sales. But Kern County is among the places that have banned all commercial marijuana activity.
In general, California will treat pot like alcohol, allowing people 21 and older to legally possess up to 1 ounce of the drug and grow six plants at home.
The slower rollout in Los Angeles will leave operators in a kind of legal limbo, at least temporarily. The state has said licensed businesses should only do business with other properly licensed operators.
However, Packer said that medicinal sales to consumers with a doctor's recommendation can continue. Medical marijuana has been legal in the state for two decades.
There could be more confusion to come.
The first licenses are expected to go largely to retailers. However, if not enough cultivators hold licenses, sellers would have to look elsewhere in California to stock their shelves.
"I will admit this is an incomplete process," Packer said.
The route to legalization began last year when state voters approved Proposition 64, which set the stage for recreational pot sales to adults.