The City Council of Los Angeles has unanimously voted to add 21 new positions to the city’s infant Department of Cannabis Regulation, quintupling the size of its current workforce after its director recently complained of being severely understaffed.
Council members voted 14-0 in favor of adding the new positions Wednesday, less than two months after California became the sixth and most populous state in the nation to allow recreational marijuana sales.
“That is a huge jump from our current capacity,” said Cat Packer, the executive director and general manager of the regulatory office. “As a new department, we are participating in the city’s normal budget process, but this is going to allow us to allocate resources a little bit quicker and make sure that we have the capacity we need to move forward with the next steps,” she told the City News Service.
The 21 new positions will include accountants, analysts, managers and a public relations team to help the office make sense of the state and city’s newly enacted recreational marijuana laws as California prepares to become likely the world’s largest commercial cannabis marketplace.
California became the first state in the country to legalize medical marijuana in 1996, and in 2016 its residents voted to join the ranks of the handful of other states where that plant can be purchased from licensed dispensaries. The state’s recreational marijuana rules took effect January 1, 2018, and L.A. started letting dispensaries sell retail weed within city limits 2 1/2 weeks later.
The L.A. Department of Cannabis Regulation has issued 101 temporary authorization licenses to marijuana businesses within a month of sales starting, said Ms. Packer, amounting to more than $2.2 million in licensing fees alone for the city — significantly more than the $1.3 million allocated to the regulatory office for the current fiscal year.
“Because we’ve been issuing so many temporary approvals, we’ve been able to collect that additional revenue and we’re hoping to use that additional revenue … to appropriate to new positions,” Ms. Packer said.
The department projects it will have collected about $3.5 million in revenue by June 2018, Ms. Packer said, well beyond earlier expectations.
Twenty-nine states and the District of Columbia have passed laws legalizing marijuana for medical or recreational purposes, notwithstanding federal law prohibiting the plant as a Schedule 1 substance in the same category with heroin and ecstasy. The Obama administration advised the Department of Justice against enforcing the federal marijuana ban in states that have legalized the drug, but President Trump’s attorney general, Jeff Sessions, rescinded that policy memo earlier this year.
California is the most populous of the six states that have implemented laws legalizing retail marijuana sales. Previous estimates have projected the state stands to earn up to $1 billion off of cannabis-related taxes within a year of retail sales starting.