Three years after California legalized the sale of recreational marijuana, most voters want municipalities to permit pot shops in their communities even though the vast majority of cities have outlawed them, according to a UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies poll conducted for the Los Angeles Times.
According to the poll, 68% of Californians say legalization has been a good thing for the state, an increase in support since 2016, when 57% of voters approved Proposition 64, which legalized growing, selling and possessing cannabis for recreational use. The poll results come as city and state leaders are battling in court and the Legislature over control of California’s pot market, including a dispute over efforts by California lawmakers to force cities to open their doors to cannabis shops.
“There hasn’t been any real buyer’s remorse about the initiative. If anything, support has gone up,” said Mark DiCamillo, director of the Berkeley IGS poll.
California has emerged as the largest market for legal marijuana in the world, on track to post $3.1 billion in licensed cannabis sales this year. But that remains dwarfed by the black market, and revenue has fallen far short of expectations.
State officials originally predicted up to $1 billion in annual tax revenue from legal sales, but received just $465 million in the fiscal year that ended in June. Though California’s pot agency initially hoped to license as many as 6,000 cannabis shops in the first few years, permits have been issued to only 601 retail stores and 274 home-delivery businesses.
Industry officials put part of the blame for California’s underperforming pot market on complex licensing rules and high state and local taxes on the cultivation and sale of cannabis that they say add more than 45% to the price of pot in in legal shops.
But cannabis businesses also say cities have contributed to the problem by outlawing pot shops.
Proposition 64, which was championed by Gavin Newsom before he was elected governor, gave municipalities the power to ban marijuana businesses. Some three-fourths of cities in the state have prohibited stores that sell cannabis products. The industry says that has stunted the state’s legal market.
But the poll found that 63% of California voters favored their cities giving permits to cannabis stores, with support in all areas of the state, including 69% in Los Angeles County. The lowest support for pot shops was in the Inland Empire, which includes Riverside and San Bernardino counties, at 54%.
The survey results could ramp up pressure on city officials to consider opening their borders to pot shops, said Lindsay Robinson, executive director of the California Cannabis Industry Assn.
“With this broad spectrum of support, it is critical that California’s local municipalities honor the will of the voters, overturn their bans, and give their constituents access to tested and regulated cannabis,” Robinson said.
Mayors and council members in many cities say they are concerned that cannabis stores may attract crime and are taking a wait-and-see approach, holding off on allowing pot shops and watching how retailers are functioning in cities that allow them, including Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Some officials feel so strongly about local control that 24 cities took the issue to court, filing a lawsuit in April against the Newsom administration to challenge its rule allowing home delivery of marijuana in communities where brick-and-mortar pot shops have been banned. That suit is still pending.
At the same time, dozens of cities have put the question to voters in local elections. While some communities have opted to keep pot shops out, voters in other areas, including Malibu, Pasadena and El Dorado County, have approved cannabis businesses.
People may want cannabis shops in their communities, but might resist when stores are proposed next door, said Dale Gieringer, director of Cal NORML, a legalization advocacy group.
“Never underestimate the influence of NIMBY [not in my backyard] resisters over local governments,” Gieringer said.
Still, the survey findings were encouraging to Assemblyman Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), who viewed them as validation for a bill he introduced this year that would require cannabis stores to be approved in cities where a majority of voters supported Proposition 64. He intends to pursue the legislation again in 2020.
“A majority of voters supported Prop. 64, so I’m not surprised that a solid majority of Californians also want their cities to allow cannabis retailers,” Ting said. “Providing safe access to cannabis products helps deter crime, creates good jobs and increases tax revenue.”
The bill, which was temporarily shelved amid opposition from cities, counties and law enforcement, would require one licensed cannabis store for every six restaurants and bars with liquor licenses, or one for every 15,000 residents, whichever results in fewer pot shops in an area.
Ting’s proposal would have led to 1,195 more cannabis retailers opening up shop in the 392 incorporated cities and unincorporated county areas that supported Proposition 64, according to a study by private consultants Applied Development Economics Inc.
The poll results have not swayed the League of California Cities, which noted that Proposition 64 specifically provided for local control, allowing cities and counties to determine where licenses are approved.
The league remains opposed to the Ting bill, according to Charles Harvey, its legislative representative, who said the proposal “strips residents of their ability to decide what is appropriate for their community — a premise that directly contradicts the framework understood by the voters when approving Prop. 64.”
Ting said he remained committed to advancing the legislation “in order to shut down the illicit businesses that are currently hurting our communities.”
The large majority of voters surveyed who think legalization has turned out to be a “good thing” may also give momentum to proponents of legal cannabis in states that have not legalized marijuana for recreational sales. And as the cannabis industry presses Congress to legalize pot on the national level, California’s experience in the push and pull between local and state powers could inform decisions elsewhere in the country.
The poll found that most Democrats and voters from all age groups say legalization has been a good thing. Most Republicans and evangelical Christians say legalization has been a bad thing.
The poll surveyed 4,527 registered voters online in English and Spanish from Sept. 13 to 18. The overall margin of error was plus or minus 2 percentage points.