EDITORIAL: Costa Mesa should not limit number of cannabis dispensaries

The Orange County Register recently reported that 57 cannabis dispensaries have applied to open in Costa Mesa, with seven out of the first 16 proposed locations being on Harbor Boulevard. Costa Mesa does not currently have a limit on how many dispensaries can operate, but neighboring city Santa Ana allows for 30 dispensaries, and city provisions in Costa Mesa allow for a new limit to be set in the next year.

Given the addictive properties and harmful side effects of cannabis as well as the increase in college students who are using the drug, it would seem as though a cap on the number of dispensaries is a good idea. However, the Coast Report Editorial Board believes that such a policy would be a mistake.

There are already two processes that limit the number of cannabis retail stores. Costa Mesa dispensaries must meet certain requirements, which include being specific distances from schools, youth centers and other dispensaries. Also, like with any industry, cannabis retailers will have to survive market competition.

Costa Mesa should not further restrict the number of dispensaries because having a large number of legal retailers would help reduce the harm from illegal cannabis sales.

Cannabis is legal in California, but the state still has a significant black market. According to recent reporting by Politico, local government opposition to marijuana across California cities and the resulting strict regulations have enabled the black market to thrive while the legal market cannot grow. The Guardian recently reported that 80 to 90% of the California marijuana industry consists of underground operations, which has several devastating effects on the state and its residents. 

Unregulated cannabis can be dangerous to both consumers and the environment. NPR reported that illegal marijuana farms, many of which use banned insecticides, have significantly damaged soil and water in public forests and their surrounding communities, when the insecticides pollute local water supplies. Additionally, pesticides used by illegal farms are often toxic to the surrounding wildlife. 

Unlicensed marijuana farms are also responsible for record amounts of water theft in California, affecting entire communities. In areas like the Antelope Valley, water thieves have been responsible for hundreds of citizens losing water access in their own home. As California is already stricken with droughts, deterring, catching and fixing problems resulting from water theft have proved a notable challenge for local officials. 

Furthermore, illegal cannabis products themselves can bring serious health risks. Politico reported that in 2019, untested and illegal vape cartridges were responsible for an outbreak of lung illnesses, ultimately hospitalizing more than 2,800 people nationwide and killing 68. In a 2020 study conducted by a marijuana testing lab in San Diego, nearly 80% of tested illegal cannabis vapes purchased from local black market dispensaries were considered “unfit for consumption” by researchers.

Unlicensed marijuana farms also have a history of human trafficking and using forced labor victims as workers.

Costa Mesa is part of the trend of hosting a thriving black market for cannabis, with at least 15 illegal dispensaries being on police radar in 2021. In April, the Costa Mesa Police Department shut down Holy Fire, an illegal retailer whose website states that it is a mile from Orange Coast College and five minutes from the Orange County Fairgrounds.

With such a high demand for cannabis, experts say that the best way to reduce underground operations is to introduce a legal market. We cannot sustain a thriving legal market in Costa Mesa if we hobble it with unnecessary regulation.

A strong legal market can be difficult to maintain because taxes make legally produced cannabis cost up to 30% more than illegally produced cannabis. This hurdle is going to be difficult to overcome as the legal industry figures out a tax plan, but one thing is clear: the first step in the process should not be limiting the number of legal retailers.

By not capping the number of dispensaries in Costa Mesa, the city will allow cannabis consumers access to healthier and safer cannabis products. The less regulated system will introduce healthy competition between legal retailers that will ultimately result in the best prices and products for customers, and will help ensure that cannabis purchased in Costa Mesa is cultivated in a humane and ethical manner.. 

For these reasons, the editorial board strongly encourages Costa Mesa officials not to put a cap on dispensaries and instead blaze a new path for the legal pot market in California. 


The Coast Report Editorial Board consists of the editor in chief and section editors. One member of the editorial board writes the editorial and this rotates throughout the semester. 

Editorial topics are pitched by all members of the board and a single topic is selected for each editorial. Each editorial board member votes on their position on the selected topic and the majority position becomes that of the editorial. In the event of a tie on the first vote, editorial board members engage in continued discussion and state the reasons for their initial vote. A second vote is then taken and the majority position becomes that of the editorial. In the event of a second tied vote, the editorial position will be decided at the discretion of the editor in chief.

For this editorial, the board vote on the issue resulted in a 6-0 majority of the board voting “no” to the question "Should the City of Costa Mesa put a cap on cannabis dispensaries?" Coast Report publishes voting results to promote transparency.  



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