Location, location, location: the three pillars of real estate. When purchasing a home or retail business, one of the most important things to consider is where your location will be in relation to major roadways, neighborhoods, other businesses, etc. When opening a cannabis business, deciding on a location becomes even more important and complex. Currently, the lack of federal legalization means that each state’s government can decide whether or not cannabis consumption, growing, and processing will be allowed within their boundaries.
The strict regulations controlling where a cannabis retailer can operate require prospective owners to win licenses, and adhere to local zoning codes and do their research.
To start you’ll need to verify that the state you plan on operating in is currently issuing dispensary licenses. Many states have put a cap on the number of available retail licenses, while others only accept new dispensary applications during specified windows or when the number of patients in each state reaches a certain level.
A simple search through your state’s cannabis regulatory agency will tell you whether or not applications are open for a retail license. Once you’ve verified license availability, the hunt is on for your perfect dispensary location.
Most states that have already legalized cannabis leave it up to their local governments to decide if they’ll allow cannabis businesses to operate within their jurisdiction. That is why the best place to begin your search is researching the local jurisdiction’s zoning code for the region you plan on operating in.
A zoning code clearly defines the areas that are designated for specific uses within the community. For example, commercial, industrial and residential properties all have their own sections within a town. You can typically access zoning codes and policies through your county or city’s planning and zoning department.
Understanding where you are allowed to build or buy retail space will help you focus your location search. What you may not know is that even though a property is within the bounds of retail property, it may still be out of compliance with zoning codes because it’s a cannabis retailer. This is when you have to look at your local zoning codes and state legislature side by side.
There are a number of limitations on top of local zoning codes. While you may be in the correct designated area for retail business, you may be too close to a school, a public park or a number of other federally regulated buildings that prohibit the sale of cannabis within so many feet of their entrance. Typically, distance is measured by the shortest straight line between the property line of the potential location to the property line of the grounds of the “protected” entity.
The legislation surrounding distance from such entities is thickest as it pertains to schools. Each state legislature writes their own, strict laws about how far away a cannabis dispensary must be from a school which is why it is vital to examine your zoning codes while looking at prospective locations.
The distance can be 100 feet to upwards of 1000 feet. For example, Oklahoma state law requires that the “location of any retail marijuana establishment is specifically prohibited within one thousand (1,000) feet from any public or private school entrance.”
Schools are abundant in every community; and until you are trying to open a dispensary, you may not realize how close together they truly are. The amount of private, public, and religious educational establishments from kindergarten to high school that are within a single community is enough to disable a dispensary from finding any compliant location. Of course, it all depends on the state you are in.
In California, you have a little bit more room to work with than Oklahoma. California’s distance laws state that “No medicinal cannabis cooperative, collective, dispensary, operator, establishment, or provider who possesses, cultivates, or distributes medicinal cannabis pursuant to this article shall be located within a 600-foot radius of a school.”
When the state of Washington first established its legalization policies, they were strict. The Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board Liquor and Cannabis Board states they will, “not issue a new marijuana license if the proposed licensed business is within one thousand feet of the following entities: elementary or secondary school, playground, recreation center or facility, child care center, public park, public transit center, library, and any game arcade (where admission is not restricted to persons age twenty-one or older). Recently, they have amended their laws to allow originally 1000 foot distance requirement to 100 feet around all entities except elementary and secondary schools and public playgrounds.
As you can see, there are a lot of factors that go into finding a location for your cannabis dispensary versus choosing a retail location for your clothing boutique. Do your research on local zoning and state law to ensure you will not have wasted time, money and resources on a location that does not meet your state’s distance standards.