California Cannabis Business Zoning Attorney


If you want to start a brick-and-mortar cannabis business in California, then zoning is a top concern. You can’t open a marijuana business anywhere. Every jurisdiction has particular zoning ordinances limiting where cannabis businesses may operate, informally called “green zones.”

Cannabis commercial real estate is at a premium. Competition for these locations is intense, which means you need to be ready to submit your application fast. It helps to work with a California cannabis business zoning attorney to make sure you comply with all statutes and guidelines.

San Diego – based attorney Jessica McElfresh helps you prepare the necessary forms and documents. You will be ready to make an offer on a new property or modify an existing building. For help with your cannabis business zoning issues, contact McElfresh Law at (858) 756-7107 or use this online form to set up a consultation.

How a Marijuana Business Lawyer Can Help

Whether you want to open your first cannabis business, expand your current location, or move, finding the right place is challenging, but a knowledgeable lawyer may help you save time and money:

  • Determine the state and local regulations that apply to your business. These will depend on the type of cannabis business and your target jurisdictions. A knowledgeable commercial cannabis attorney will help you avoid many hurdles and reduce your risk of denials and time-consuming delays.
  • Works with marijuana cultivators, manufacturers, distributors, retail operations, and others through planning and starting their businesses. We help with every step of the process, from due diligence and perfecting the business plan to finding locations and obtaining local permits.
  • Connect with consulting engineers, environmental experts, and others to review the site and obtain the documents you need for the permit process.

Once you have found the ideal commercial cannabis real estate, McElfresh Law helps you remain in compliance with state and local marketing and promotional rules.

Zoning Varies by Jurisdiction and Business Type

California law leaves zoning regulations up to individual jurisdictions. That means counties and cities each have their own rules, and those rules differ for various marijuana businesses. An attorney can help you understand these zoning rules.

Some jurisdictions have no zoning ordinances because they ban all cannabis businesses.

Common Cannabis Zoning Laws

Every jurisdiction is different, but they frequently include:

  • Maintaining a certain distance from schools and parks
  • Manufacturing prohibited in residential areas
  • Limits the number of cannabis businesses within specific areas

San Diego Cannabis Zoning Information

San Diego’s cannabis zoning ordinance is highly specific.

  • Cannabis Production Facilities: Up to 40 citywide; retail and testing prohibited; 100 feet away from residential zones; and 1,000 feet away from parks, churches, childcare centers, playgrounds, libraries, residential care facilities, schools, and other minor-oriented facilities.
  • Cannabis Outlets: Up to four per district and 36 citywide; 100 feet away from residential zones; and 1,000 feet away from parks, churches, childcare centers, playgrounds, libraries, residential care facilities, schools, and other minor-oriented facilities.
  • Cannabis Testing Facilities: Allowed in commercial and industrial zones and don’t require a development permit.

San Diego’s general restrictions include:

  • No cannabis smoking in public places or on business premises.
  • No selling or distributing cannabis or cannabis by-products at special events.
  • Deliveries allowed as an accessory use only from Cannabis Outlets with a valid Conditional Use Permit.

Environmental Regulations

Many environmental regulations apply to cannabis businesses, including:

  • Pesticide use
  • Water use, water quality, and water discharge
  • Wildlife and habitat protections

Dispensaries shouldn’t ignore environmental regulations. The California Environmental Quality Act applies to cannabis growers and businesses. CEQA regulates soil quality, habitat damage, and greenhouse gas emissions to increase land use density and traffic.

Unfortunately, many cannabis businesses are currently operating on provisional permits, allowing them to skip environmental impact studies. If your business is hoping to obtain an annual license, you’ll have to address environmental regulations.

Environmental Impact Report

Your business may need to pay for a study to establish it won’t damage the environment, or you may have to prove your company is exempt. There are many potential exemptions, but they depend on the location and business type.

The environmental study can have three results:

  • Your business has no environmental impact.
  • Your business has an impact, but you can mitigate those below the threshold requirements.
  • An environmental impact report shows mitigation isn’t enough, and further analysis is necessary.

EIR is costly, time-consuming, and requires a public comment period. Suppose you receive an EIR and have been moving forward without a lawyer. In that case, it’s wise to call a cannabis zoning attorney today.

The Permitting Process

Every jurisdiction has a unique permitting process. You’ll most likely need to apply for a Conditional use Permit and attend any required hearings or meetings. The local commission will review your application, finances, and intended location. They can issue a Conditional Land Use permit if you meet all the requirements.

A cannabis commercial real estate lawyer helps you prepare. McElfresh Law has helped many marijuana businesses successfully navigate this procedure.

Practical Considerations for a Cannabis Location

Zoning isn’t your only concern when searching for the perfect location. There are practical considerations as well, including:

Community: Even if cannabis businesses are legally allowed, does the community welcome them and their customers? Will the community push back against visible signs and marketing for the cannabis business?

Parking: Will there be enough parking nearby to support your customers without aggravating nearby businesses or residents? Many communities worry about traffic congestion or lack of parking.

Accessibility: Will your business be accessible to those with physical, visual, and other disabilities? Many people who wish to purchase cannabis may have physical limitations. You may need handicap parking, a ramp, or display areas with room for wheelchairs.

Security: Will you be able to install ample security measures around your business to protect your customers, employees, and inventory? Many communities worry about an increase in crime around dispensaries.

Finding the best location for your business is complex. A cannabis business real estate lawyer can help make this search easier on you.

Let a Cannabis Business Zoning Attorney Help

When searching for the ideal commercial real estate for a cannabis business, a California marijuana lawyer can help. The California cannabis industry is a confusing network of state laws and local rules. Let McElfresh Law help you find the right location, secure necessary licenses, permits, and protect your rights.

Call McElfresh Law at (858) 756-7107 or contact us online to set up a consultation.