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How to Apply for a Cannabis License Part 1 - Local Application

Updated: Oct 6, 2021


This is the first article in a five part series on how to apply for a cannabis license. We cover the major steps in every market including expert tips, from application to final approvals.


Local Application for a Cannabis License

The local application process can be the most intensive aspect of obtaining a commercial cannabis business license. In most cases, you have to write and prepare a comprehensive application packet that highlights your capabilities and full understanding regulations while demonstrating a track record in an industry that is still nascent. The local application process can feel overwhelming, but being prepared increases your chances of success.


In most jurisdictions, you will need to submit the following:

  • Business name and business formation documents; articles of incorporation, statement of information, seller’s permit and possibly others depending on the jurisdiction.

  • Individual information such as address, other general business and cannabis business licenses, criminal convictions, biographical background, Live Scan or background check.

  • Premises diagram that includes a floor plan that details the dimensions of the facility, the premises, the property, limited access areas as well as proposed product intake and output areas, common areas and all entries and exits.

Expert Tip: A limited access area should be an area easy to secure where cannabis products can be stored and only accessible to authorized personnel. Cannabis products and safes or vaults must always be in limited access areas.

  • Site control and permission evidence such as documentation of a lease or ownership of the property. In the case of a lease, you must provide evidence that the owner of the property agrees to it being used for a cannabis business.

Expert Tip: Often in competitive local application markets where merit-based criteria are used to rank applicants, property ownership is viewed more favorably than leasing because it demonstrates greater control and better prospects for a long-term business.

  • Site and building photographs.

  • Operational plan.

Expert Tip: Be prepared. Some jurisdictions may require a Labor Peace Agreement, or some formal agreement between the proposed cannabis business and a local labor union. If you don’t plan to hire the number of employees (typically 20 or more) that would trigger an LPA, an acknowledgement that you will enter into such an agreement when that number is reached will suffice.

  • Security plan detailing the security measures for the facility, such as alarms, guards, and access procedures.

  • Fire safety plan detailing building materials and fire safety ratings, emergency exit strategies, fire sprinkler system locations and specifications, fire hydrant locations, and fire extinguisher locations.

Expert Tip: Some localities require that the security and safety plans be prepared by licensed professionals, but even if they don't, it is a best practice given the level of technical information needed to complete them.

  • Standard operating procedures, including inventory control/tracking, facility access, cash handling, and opening and closing protocols.

  • Odor control/ventilation plan showing how cannabis odor will be contained and mitigated so it doesn’t become a public nuisance, including some type of air scrubbing system such as charcoal filters.

  • Verification that the property is properly zoned and buffered. This step means that the applicant has already had the address verified by the proper agencies confirming that the proposed location is in an appropriate zoning area - usually commercial, industrial, or agricultural, and at least a set distance away from sensitive uses such as parks, schools, daycare facilities, residences, churches and others.

Expert Tip: It is a good idea to meet with the relevant local agency to discuss this, after which the agency may issue a verification letter to be submitted with the application. Different jurisdictions have varying definitions of what constitutes a sensitive use. For instance, a summer camp for kids may or may not be considered a sensitive use; the same is true of a playground outside an apartment complex or an elementary school bus stop. Any space where minors congregate should be considered and reviewed with the local planning division to make a determination. It is also important to consider how the distance between the cannabis facility and the sensitive use is measured. Some localities go from lot line to lot line, some from entryway to entryway, and some from building perimeter to building perimeter. A few feet can make all the difference, and knowing where measurements start and end is imperative in determining a location’s viability.

  • Community benefits plan. Some localities, especially those with competitive licensing processes that are merit-based require applicants to submit a detailed plan on how the applicant will benefit the community if awarded local licensure. The typical elements of these benefit plans include; local employment commitments, wage and compensation levels that are above current market rate, sustainable business practices, environmentally conscious operations, financial commitments to community reinvestment projects, neighborhood integration and revitalization efforts, local sourcing of materials and community service hours and voluntarism.

Next article - Local Approvals.


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