Santa Ana's 'Merit-Based' Cannabis Licensing Scheme Draws Fire – Leafly

Since California’s state-regulated cannabis market launched this year, Santa Ana has emerged as the epicenter of Orange County’s legal marijuana trade. That’s because it’s the only one of 34 cities in the county—the state’s third most populous—to expressly permit adult-use sales.


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It’s also a prime location for cannabis. The city occupies the central, urban heart of Orange County, only minutes from neighboring Los Angeles County. To the west, its boundaries extend to include the gilded South Coast Plaza shopping center and John Wayne Airport, the third-busiest in Southern California. On clear days, the skyline of Downtown LA looms above the 5 freeway’s ribbon of concrete.

In fact, as adult-use cannabis sales kicked off in the Golden State on Jan. 1, Santa Ana was the only place between LA and the San Diego County line where customers 21 and older could buy it.

The city’s second, merit-based round of licensing was supposed to improve on the first.

The prime location has made for fierce competition as the city gears up to issue a second round of licenses. Critics say the process is so poorly designed that would-be marijuana magnates are gaming the system.

City Hall, which is scheduled to weigh a proposal at Tuesday’s council meeting to “modify” application and registration for retailers, has already allowed 20 retailers to exist. Officials are now poised to open the door to 10 more “using a merit-based criteria scoring method,” Deputy City Manager Robert Cortez told Leafly. The city was expected to grant the final licenses in spring, but the ongoing controversy could cause delays.


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In an email, Cortez expressed

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