It’s been five years since California launched adult-use cannabis sales in 2018, and nearly two-thirds of the state’s cities and counties still prohibit dispensaries within their jurisdictions.
To encourage more local governments to host cannabis retailers, the California Department of Cannabis Control (DCC) announced Feb. 14 that it has launched a Local Jurisdiction Retail Access Grant to provide cities and counties with the resources to develop and implement licensing programs for dispensaries.
The grant program will prioritize areas where national surveys reveal high cannabis consumption rates but where there is little to no access to retail outlets, and will also prioritize local licensing programs that support equity operators and use existing licensing practices.
“Expanding access to California’s retail cannabis market is an important step towards protecting consumer safety and supporting a balanced market,” DCC Director Nicole Elliott said in a public statement. “The retail access grant program ultimately seeks to encourage legal retail operations in areas where existing consumers do not have convenient access to regulated cannabis.”
The DCC has released grant guidelines, kicking off a “Question and Answer” period that allows local government officials to seek additional information about the grant program and the application process. Questions can be emailed to email@example.com and will be accepted until 5 p.m. on Feb. 24.
Counties that do not currently have a local program to license dispensaries but plan to establish one are eligible to apply for the grants. The funding can then be used to support equity applicants and licensees or to finance environmental reviews, permitting expenses and personnel costs.
Regulators will begin accepting grant applications on March 10. Up to $20 million in total funding is available, and the grants will be distributed in two phases. Applications for Phase I funding must be submitted by 5 p.m. on April 28.
The grant program will initially award up to $10 million by June 30; after that date, an additional $10 million will be available to previous awardees as they issue dispensary licenses.
There are currently 33 counties in California that do not offer cannabis business licenses, according to the DCC press release. Of those 33 counties, nine have “substantial” rates of cannabis consumption, the release states, despite having one or no licensed dispensaries. Four of those nine counties—Butte, Glenn, Madera and Sutter—have no licensed cannabis retailers. Those four counties will receive priority review if they apply for a grant, according to the release.
Overall, the grant program aims to provide California’s cannabis consumers with reliable access to regulated and tested cannabis, reduce illicit market demand, and establish enough dispensaries statewide to meet the current consumer demand.