By Edwin Folven, 6/17/2010
While several medical marijuana dispensaries closed last week when the city’s permanent ordinance went into effect, 169 dispensaries have submitted applications to the city clerk’s office to be allowed to stay open.
The applicants include a dozen dispensaries in the Hollywood and Wilshire area, including three on Melrose Avenue and four on La Brea Avenue. At least five additional dispensaries are applying to stay open in Hollywood, according to a list compiled by the city clerk’s office. The applications will now be reviewed by the city’s Department of Building and Safety, the Los Angeles police Department and the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office, and will have until December to comply with the city’s permanent ordinance.
The city will allow dispensaries that were operating before a 2007 moratorium went into effect to stay open, but they cannot be located adjacent to residential areas, or within 500 feet of schools, religious institutions and community centers. City officials originally anticipated approximately 140 dispensaries would be eligible to stay open, and the 169 applications reflect situations where more than one owner of a single dispensary is applying, according to Holly Wolcott, executive officer for the Los Angeles City Clerk’s Office. The applications will be narrowed down during the next couple of months, and only one owner will be eligible for any one dispensary. The final list should be ready by September.
While the legal dispensaries are under review, the LAPD and the City Attorney’s Office reiterated their intent to target illegal dispensaries. Law enforcement officials are not divulging when a crackdown might occur, but said plans are being formulated.
“Right now, we are just asking for voluntary compliance, and we are not going to let anybody know when we are going to take action,” said Det. Wayland Tam, with the LAPD’s Gangs and Narcotics Division. “We are asking those that are operating illegally to close their doors, and if they don’t do that, we will be taking the appropriate action.”
Tam added that his office has received hundreds of calls since the ordinance went into effect on June 7, reporting dispensaries that remain open. He did not know how many illegal dispensaries are open, but said police would be following up on reports.
“We’ve been swamped with calls,” Tam added. “But it is helpful in letting us know where to look.”
Frank Mateljan, a spokesperson for the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office, said prosecutors are also collecting information on the illegal dispensaries and will act soon. He said that letters went out last month to more than 400 dispensaries that were operating illegally, warning them to close. The operators of any illegal dispensary will face up to six months in jail and fines of $2,500 per day they stay open. Property owners who allow an illegal dispensary to remain open could have their license to rent or lease a building revoked.
“If I we’re the owner of a place that is open, and knew it to be operating in violation of the ordinance and I would be facing jail time and fines, I would be very nervous,” Mateljan said. “The letters were the warning, and you would have to be living in a cave somewhere not to know this was coming down the road.”
Paul Lerner, co-founder of the Melrose Action Neighborhood Watch, said a group of local residents and law enforcement officials checked on all of the dispensaries in the Melrose area last week and determined they had closed. He said a follow-up over the weekend revealed one dispensary — Green Medicine at 7318 Melrose Ave. — might still be operating. Green Medicine is not on the list of dispensaries being evaluated to remain open. The front door was left ajar on Monday, but a second security door prevented access to the dispensary. Calls to a phone number that was listed were not answered, and it was unclear whether the dispensary is still in business.
Lerner said he is not overly concerned about too many dispensaries remaining open in the Melrose area after the December deadline, because many that are applying will not be allowed to operate in the Melrose Avenue shopping district because the shops are too close to residences. He added that the rules may change again if a ballot initiative to legalize marijuana in California passes in November.
“At this point, our greatest concern is seeing the illegal pot stores close down, and with anything else, we will have to wait and see what the future holds,” Lerner added.
Law enforcement officials have also issued a warning about medical marijuana delivery services, which offer the drug over the Internet. Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley issued a statement on June 9 that Internet sales and home delivery of medical marijuana are illegal, and those in violation face felony prosecution. The announcement came in response to reports that medical marijuana providers were using the delivery service as a loophole to state law and the new Los Angeles city ordinance.
“There is no loophole,” Cooley said. “Selling medical marijuana for profit continues to be a felony crime under California law.”
The Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office has established an e-mail address where people can report dispensaries that continue to operate in violation of the city’s ordinance at firstname.lastname@example.org.