L.A. Businesses May Wait Weeks for Legal Weed Licenses in 2018

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The city won't begin accepting applications to sell legal recreational pot until Jan. 3, officials say.

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 to 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."

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.

"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 growers and distributors, 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. 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 an ounce of the drug and grow six plants at home.

The delay 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 medicinal sales to consumers with a doctor's recommendation can continue. Medical marijuana has been legal in the state for two decades.

The route to legalization began last year when state voters approved Proposition 64, which set the stage for recreational pot sales to adults.