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Guide to Riverside County, California Cannabis Licensing

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January 07, 2019

Riverside County, California recently released Ordinance No. 348.4898 which permits commercial cannabis activity in the unincorporated areas of Riverside County – specifically related to cannabis cultivation, manufacturing, distribution, testing, microbusinesses, wholesale nurseries and retail.


Thus far, the county has begun accepting Conditional Use Permits for certain commercial cannabis activities. However, cannabis cultivation, retail, and microbusinesses will undergo a different permitting process that involves pre-registration. The County will only be issuing 50 cultivation permits and 19 retailer permits in the first year.

The window for the submission of pre-registration applications will only be open for 14 days. This window has yet to open – but you can start to prepare for the five-step process now. Here’s what we know about getting your cannabis retailer or cultivator license in Riverside County so far.  

Steps for Getting a Riverside County Cannabis Permit

It is a five-step process to get your cannabis permit as a cultivator or retailer in Riverside County, California.

Step 1

First, the county will open a 14-day pre-registration window for those seeking a Commercial Cannabis Cultivation or Retail Sales Conditional Use Permit. The 14-day window will start in the early part of this year. At that time, anyone who is interested will have to respond to the County’s Request for Proposal (RFP). All pre-registration applicants will be required to complete and submit a Cannabis Pre-Registration form with their property information, applicant information, and the commercial cannabis activity type. You must submit the pre-registration form to be considered for the next step. If you are not pre-registered, you will not be contacted to move on to Step 2.

Step 2

You need to attend one of the “Interested Party Meetings” hosted by the County. The number, time, and place of the meetings is yet to be determined: however, the County is anticipating hosting one meeting in the Western County region and another in the East. These meetings will outline the requirements for the proposal and take interested applicants through the consideration process. It is crucial that you attend one of these meetings, as the staff will tell you how your proposal will be ranked.

Step 3

After the Interested Party Meetings, Step 3 is to prepare your proposal. The County is anticipating allowing a 45-day window to allow you to get your proposal together. You will be asked to submit your materials in one 15-day window. Each proposal must be submitted online with a non-refundable deposit. Pro-tip: if you submit your proposal early, the County will give you a review for completeness and contact you early if any material is missing. This is a big bonus for anyone who can begin to prepare your application now!

Step 4

Then, the County will review all proposals for completeness. For your application to move to step 5 (ranking), you must be sure to submit all the information requested. Applications that are found to be incomplete will receive a 50% refund of their deposit, but they will not move on to Step 5.

Step 5

Finally, cannabis retail and cultivator permits will be scored using points allotted to categories to be determined in the Interested Parties Meetings (Step 2) such as:

  • Business plan
  • Planned location
  • “Good Neighbor” community development plan
  • Security Plan
  • Odor Control Methods (if applicable)
  • Local Enterprise (Community Based)
  • Protection of the Environment
  • Labor and employment plan

There will also be a criminal history background check required for the Business Owner and the Property owner. Scoring will be performed by a third-party contractor, HdL, and the County. The proposals with a combined minimum score of 80% (and the passed background screenings) will then be ranked from highest to lowest scores. Then, if there are <19 cannabis retailer and/or <50 cannabis cultivator proposals, those applicants will be ratified by the Board of Supervisors and move forward to the land use permit review and development agreement process.

If there are more than 19 retail and more than 50 cultivation applicants, then the first 19 and the first 50 will move forward to the land use and development agreement process. Basically, the county is only open to 19 cannabis retailers and/or 50 cannabis cultivators at this time.

Note that moving to the land use permit process does not guarantee a business license. You must then apply for a conditional use permit and other applications as requested.

What does that mean for other proposals who scored an 80% but didn’t make the top 19 or 50 applications? Remaining applicants will be placed on a waiting list for future processing as the County sees how the first year of permitting goes. The good news is that your application won’t expire for at least a year; the bad news is you could be waiting for a year to find out when you move on to the next phase.

Stay tuned for more to come from Riverside County, especially in regards to the other business verticals in the cannabis industry. If you want help preparing for Riverside County's application process, click the button below!

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Filed Under: California, Licenses