California will offer millions of dollars in grants in an effort to expand access to the regulated cannabis industry, the state announced last week.

The Department of Cannabis Control said that the grant program will be the first of its kind in the United States, and will “provide local jurisdictions with resources to expand access to regulated cannabis products to underserved areas.”

The state said that “areas where national surveys find high cannabis consumption but have little to no access to legal cannabis retail” will be prioritized for the “Local Jurisdiction Retail Access Grant,” and that the program “seeks to incentivize local best practices by prioritizing programs that support equity operators and utilize existing licensing and permitting practices.”

The department said that the “$20 million grant program will initially award up to $10 million in grants by June 20, 2023,” with an additional $10 million being made available “to previous awardees as they issue licenses” after June 30.

More than six years after voters there approved a measure legalizing recreational pot and clearing the way for a regulated market, California’s state-sanctioned cannabis industry has fallen on hard times. 

In 2021, the value of California’s legal cannabis crop plunged by 40%, according to a report released in November, a drop that has been attributed to the pervasiveness of the illicit cannabis market in the state. 

That trend has lawmakers and regulators alike concerned, and left scrambling for solutions. 

One Democratic lawmaker, Matt Haney, introduced a bill earlier this month that would aim to improve the experience at the state’s cannabis cafes by allowing those licensed consumption lounges to serve food and beverages, as well as host live events. 

“If we want this legal industry to survive in California, we have to change these laws. They’re losing to the illegal cannabis industry, and one thing that the legal cannabis small business can offer is an experience,” Haney told the Los Angeles Times. “Cannabis businesses told us that they may have to close their doors unless the laws change. The regulations that prohibit them from offering other products like food are a huge burden.”

In the announcement of the new grant program last week, the state’s Department of Cannabis Control said that lack of access “to California’s legal cannabis marketplace threatens consumer safety and perpetuates the illegal market.” 

“By financially supporting the creation of pathways to retail licensure and creating incentives to ensure consumers have access to legal retail, these grant funds are intended to help reduce illicit market activity and provide consumers with access to legal retail stores and regulated products,” the announcement said. 

Nicole Elliott, the director of the California Department of Cannabis Control, said that expanding access “to California’s retail cannabis market is an important step towards protecting consumer safety and supporting a balanced market.”

“The retail access grant program ultimately seeks to encourage legal retail operations in areas where existing consumers do not have convenient access to regulated cannabis,” Elliott said. 

The department said that the program marks “the first time a state has offered grants to provide access to retail cannabis licensing at the local government level.”

“With over 60 percent of California jurisdictions not offering local retail licensing for cannabis, the retail access grant program can provide much-needed assistance to cities and counties, as they partner with the state to ensure consumers have sufficient access to regulated cannabis,” the department said in the announcement. 

“Of the 33 counties in California that currently do not offer cannabis licenses, there are nine counties where the rates of cannabis consumption are substantial despite only having one or zero licensed cannabis retailers.”

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