Humboldt Journal of Social Relations


This article examines important differences taken by California’s three largest metropolitan areas to regulating medical cannabis dispensaries and the role activists and organizations play in shaping regulatory practices. In the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles, and San Diego, medical marijuana activists and providers have faced vastly different “political opportunity structures.” I operationalize political opportunity structures as composed of district attorney policies, police department policies, city initiatives and resolutions, the presence or absence of dispensary regulations, and the presence or absence of city level task forces or commissions. Activists use ballot initiatives, lobbying, civil disobedience, protests, and referenda to further open the political opportunities they faced. Cities in the San Francisco Bay Area are “pro-regulation,” while Los Angeles has taken a “laissez faire” approach, and San Diego a “prohibitionist” approach. Successful local ballot initiatives, pro-medical marijuana city council resolutions, sympathetic local law enforcement personnel, and the presence of local regulatory bodies contribute to favorable political opportunities and viable local regulations. Local officials have responded differently to a federal campaign to eliminate dispensaries and dissuade local regulation that began in late 2011.