The city of West Hollywood has just six marijuana dispensaries serving 35,000 residents concentrated in a mere two square miles—and if you don’t think that’s nearly enough weed, get ready to get happy.
WeHo is planning to approve roughly 40 new cannabis permits over the next year as part of its ambition to blend the city’s unique artistic and social vibe with the larger recreational pot movement to create a kind of West Coast Amsterdam under the name Emerald Village, the Los Angeles Times reports.
Helping to pave the way are popular marijuana enthusiasts Jay-Z, Bill Maher, Patricia Arquette and Woody Harrelson, who are among a group of star investors who the city hopes will make the prospect seem less weird.
“People who wouldn’t otherwise come to West Hollywood will come for the celebrity factor,” Scott Schmidt, the executive director of the trade group behind the campaign, tells the Times.
Jay-Z-backed cannabis concern The Parent Co. recently bought the all-female-run West Hollywood dispensary Calma, while Arquette is an investor in a cannabis lounge, and old school pot pals Maher and Harrelson are behind a lounge and dispensary that is currently under construction, according to city officials.
WeHo already has an enviable dispensary-per-capita ratio of one retailer for every 5,959 residents, compared to just one pot stop for every 18,528 residents in Los Angeles. The legal marijuana trade also proved to be a desperately needed money-maker for West Hollywood during the pandemic, when California deemed dispensary employees “essential workers” and pot sales in the city brought in $817 million in taxes for the fiscal year 2020-21, an increase of 55 percent over the previous year.
Cannabis sales currently generate $2.2 million a year in tax revue for WeHo but that number is expected to reach $6 million once the 40 additional permitted pot palaces open for business. West Hollywood is also quick to point out that the evidence so far suggests that adding new purveyors to the existing ones won’t hurt anyone’s margins.
“It should also be noted that the city has not seen a significant decrease in tax receipts from existing [cannabis] businesses as new ones have opened, indicating that there is capacity in the market for continued growth,” according to an April report from the city.
And if there is some panicked minority fretting about the wages of reefer madness in WeHo, they’re apparently not a vocal one. After all, during the AIDS crisis of the 1980s, West Hollywood opened some of the country’s first medical marijuana dispensaries while Nancy Reagan was still telling the Diff’rent Strokes kids to, “Just say no.”
West Hollywood Mayor Lauren Meister tells the Times there’s been almost no opposition among residents.
“We have always been a little edgy,” she said, “and I think this fits in with our personality.”
UCLA urban culture historian Eric Avila adds that WeHo’s “permissiveness, experimentation and some would say progressiveness… play into West Hollywood becoming the new Amsterdam of the U.S. in terms of cannabis.”
While West Hollywood community and legislative affairs manager John Leonard says, “Applicants have been lining up for these licenses,” the city is not courting just anyone to ply their trade in town. Instead, the proposed new businesses are expected to reflect the standards set by the community’s existing shops, restaurants, and other venues—for instance, gatherings for the LGBTQ community planned for Arquette’s upcoming lounge.
“We are bringing in some really high-end, wonderful concepts,” West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce President Genevieve Morrill tells the Times.
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