October 28, 2021

By Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson and Councilmember Curren Price


The City of Los Angeles Department of Cannabis Regulation (DCR) has been challenged to address one of its most significant responsibilities, launching the country’s largest cannabis social equity program. A program intended to work as a correction for the decades of injustices suffered by communities of color during the War on Drugs which ushered in mass incarceration.  

The lack of transparency and accountability in the licensing process has contributed to numerous procedural lags and caused significant financial hardships that undermine the program’s intent. Instead of providing good paying jobs, social equity applicants struggle to navigate an arduous licensing process while trying to maintain expensive leases and hold on to their investors.

Due to the lack of effective basic licensing services, applicants and stakeholders have increasingly turned to their Council Office to intervene. In addition, the scarcity of legal cannabis businesses is helping the illicit market to thrive, which fosters neighborhood nuisances.

In September, we submitted a motion for DCR to implement common-sense changes to speed up the licensing process. In response to the motion, DCR released an email on Oct. 1, 2021, offering webinars to help applicants learn about recently adopted changes to streamline the licensing process. Unfortunately, the changes that have been implemented do not go far enough. 

“The city needs to create a clear process for potential small business owners.

Our current process often leads to financial ruin and broken dreams,” Councilmember Harris-Dawson remarked. “Our motion requires reforms that will create accountability, transparency, and results.”

“As a member of the Budget and Finance Committee, I have been a long standing supporter of the Department of Cannabis Regulation and its potential to build a social equity program that would eliminate the stigmas of the past and help support new and innovative opportunities for cannabis businesses in the City of LA,” added Councilman Price. “At this point, the department's ineffectiveness has resulted in detrimental economic effects, which have led to social equity would-be business owners to leave the City in droves, millions of dollars in lost revenue and inhibited the creation of thousands of potential jobs, which our Los Angeles economy desperately needs. An overhaul must be done to remove roadblocks and establish a stronger foundation that is not only fair but truly supports budding entrepreneurs today and into the future.”

DCR’s new process addresses some of the problems but falls short on three main points. 

1) Reliable times for licensing processing. Our motion insists that reliable times for licensing processing are embedded in the ordinance. 2) DCR shall rescind its deadline of August 31, 2021, for applicants without Temporary Approval to make relocation requests, ownership modification, and entity changes.  3) DCR shall rescind its deadline of December 31, 2021, for Phase 3, Round 1 applicants to request relocation. Both these deadlines were announced without discussion with Council and gave insufficient notice, resulting in numerous complaints from applicants, business owners, and other stakeholders. Since the motion was introduced, DCR announced in the October 21, 2021 Cannabis Regulation Commission meeting that they are rescinding its December 31, 2021 deadline and plan to adopt some of the other recommendations in the motion. However, they still reject being held accountable to processing timelines.

The time to act is now. The City has lost tens of millions in tax revenue and thousands of jobs as hundreds of businesses are kept from opening. Legitimate operators and applicants are leaving the city in frustration and social equity applicants are still not receiving the priority they are due.

With this motion, we hope to increase accountability and transparency at DCR. Adopting these measures will support applicants, expand the program’s effectiveness, and reduce the number of illegal dispensaries.

Category: Opinion