Orange County has become more progressive. But on marijuana, old habits die hard.
A tectonic political shift took place in Orange County in 2016. The shift had been underway for some time, but solidified when the Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton won the traditionally red county. It was the first time that had happened in eight decades.
That same election, 52% of Orange County voters approved Proposition 64, which legalized recreational marijuana in the state of California. But nearly six years later, only a single OC city has permitted operationl dispensaries. There are just 117 cannabis businesses of any kind in a county of 3.2 million people.
The reasons range from lingering social conservatism to entrenched NIMBYism. Santa Ana has bucked the trend. It's home to most of the cannabis businesses (27 operating dispensaries, 3 pending, and 37 other marijuana operators). Costa Mesa has issued 36 licenses, but none of them are for retail — yet. Anaheim remains closed to commercial cannabis. Irvine only allows some testing labs. Cannabis e-commerce and advertising platform Weedmaps is also located there. Tiny Stanton has four retail licenses available, but has yet to approve any.
Huntington Beach banned commercial cannabis in 2017. But the city could be forced to reverse course.
“Momentum has been building for a voter initiative in Orange County’s fourth-largest city, which counts nearly 200,000 residents,” Marijuana Business Daily reports. Many experts say it's a matter of if, not when, a city opens its doors to commercial cannabis.
The voter initiative process has been on fire lately. Through the voter initiative process, activists forced the El Monte City Council to legalize commercial cannabis in 2019. They have used the same process to all but guarantee commercial pot sales in Redondo Beach. The same is likely to happen in Huntington Beach.
Change has been slow in the OC, but it’s probably coming whether the more conservative residents and representatives like it or not.