California pot dispensaries and consumers face sobering reality

It's now legal to sell recreational pot in California, but the rollout is not going smoothly everywhere. It may be months before the digital system designed to track and regulate sales is fully operational, and the drug is still only being sold for medical purposes in some large cities, like Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Potential pot customers in Los Angeles were hit with a sobering reality Jan. 1: the city had just started taking applications for licenses to sell recreational weed.

"We are going to do this the Los Angeles way and that means that we're going to have to do this responsibly," said Cat Packer, head of the city's new Department of Cannabis Regulation. She said medical marijuana dispensaries that have been compliant with the law will get priority processing.

Even then, it could be a week before a temporary recreational license is issued.

"Businesses are going to have to submit applications for review, they're going to have to go through pre-licensing inspections," Packer said.

Another issue? The digital system the state is using to regulate and track recreational marijuana sales just launched, and businesses have to be trained to input data before the state can make it mandatory, which could take months. Business are being asked to manually file invoices, which experts say is not only complicated but also risks marijuana sales slipping into the black market.

"The rules are so onerous that it's not really possible to do manual," said Ben Curren, CEO of Green Bits, a company that helps dispensaries in seven states comply with regulations, including in California.

California facing roadblocks to legal recreational pot

"The first year is going to be a lot of the businesses transitioning, getting used to the new rules, and learning the differences, and then getting good at doing that at scale. And the state itself you'll see will actually be a little more lenient at the beginning while people are learning it," Curren said.

There are also concerns that the relatively low number of licenses issued so far for recreational marijuana could lead to a dry spell if the new distribution system fails to meet demand fast enough.