The border separating Orange and Los Angeles counties is known in some Southern California circles as the Orange Curtain, a knock distinguishing the more conservative, insular bedroom communities from their more progressive, urban neighbors to the north.
The term might have new meaning in the age of legal marijuana, since the vast majority of Orange County cities still maintain bans on medical and recreational marijuana businesses, despite solid support countywide for adult-use legalization when it was on the ballot in 2016.
Overall, 52% of Orange County voters approved Proposition 64, the 2016 state ballot initiative that legalized recreational marijuana and established a regulatory framework.
But more than five years later, the state’s third-most populous county – with nearly 3.2 million residents – has allowed only 117 cannabis businesses of any type, with just one city home to operational retail stores, according to an MJBizDaily analysis of state data.
That stands in contrast to counties such as L.A., San Francisco, Alameda and Humboldt, each of which boasts hundreds – if not thousands – of licensed cannabis companies.
A marijuana desert
Which begs the question: Why has Orange County become a marijuana industry desert?
The reasons are as diverse as the county’s economy and demographics.
Orange County has been a Republican stronghold for decades, and many of its cities still lean socially conservative, such as Garden Grove and Westminster, home to the largest Vietnamese communities in the nation.
Nimbyism also plays a role, particularly in the county’s older, smaller communities, wealthy south suburbs and along the coast.
Newport Beach and Laguna Beach are prime examples.
Two of the most affluent cities in the nation overwhelmingly approved Proposition 64, the ballot measure that legalized recreational marijuana.
Yet, both ban cannabis businesses.
They’re among 25 of Orange County’s 34 cities that approved Prop 64, yet only a handful have commercial marijuana programs, a reflection of the statewide local moratoriums hampering the legal industry.