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How to Apply for a Cannabis License Part 2 - Local Approval

Updated: Oct 6, 2021


This is the second article in our five part series on on how to apply for a cannabis license.


Approval of a cannabis business on the local level involves several layers of reviews by a variety of departments. Given legal cannabis is still largely uncharted territory, local governments want to ensure only the best operators are licensed and that those operators conduct business in the safest, most secure and compliant way. Often, the planning department, planning commission, city council, community services departments, police and fire will be involved.

  • The local planning department often plays a pivotal role in evaluating cannabis business applications. Planning departments are usually in charge of reviewing and ensuring compliance in all types of projects across a locality, from roads to building construction to businesses and zoning. The planning commission oversees the planning department and local development. The city council makes the ultimate decision about many issues, including cannabis business approvals. The police department and fire department often become involved in the review of security and safety plans from cannabis applicants.

Expert Tip: In a competitive, merit-based application process, the cannabis business application should be as complete and detailed as possible. Applicants will not have an opportunity to correct any deficiencies in a competitive process so it is imperative that your application be in top-notch shape. The locality will generally work closely with an applicant during the Conditional Use Permit phase—but the applicant has to be approved for cannabis license first.

  • In addition to the cannabis business application, the planning department will also require a Conditional Use Permit (CUP). This will largely entail providing the information on the cannabis business application as well as some additional information related to the property and its location, including mechanical, engineering, and plumbing plans; water control plans; topography/elevation angles and necessary grading; conceptual landscaping plans; and street view renderings, among other things. The stage at which a CUP is submitted varies by locality: some require it to be submitted along with the cannabis business application and others require it after the cannabis business application is approved.

  • If the applicant has been chosen to move on to the CUP phase, the locality will inform the applicant if any submitted materials require additional information, amendments, or revisions. There is likely to be some back-and-forth communication with the planning department until all issues are resolved and all questions are answered.

  • Once the cannabis business application and the CUP are approved, the process often moves to a public hearing.

Next article - Public Hearings.


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