By Edwin Folven, 7/26/2012
Motion allowing some outlets to remain open will be considered
The Los Angeles City Council unanimously approved a ban on medical marijuana dispensaries Tuesday that would require all dispensaries in the city to close, but would allow groups of up to three patients and caregivers to grow the marijuana for personal use.
The city council also left open the possibility that more than 180 dispensaries that were operating before a 2007 moratorium was passed will be able to continue to operate, and will consider that issue within the next few months.
The ban approved Tuesday will go into effect 30 days after being signed into law by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who announced his support for the ban on dispensaries Tuesday and is expected to sign the new law within the next week. The Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office will now begin sending letters to the owners of the approximately 760 dispensaries that have registered to operate in the city ordering them to shut down immediately. Some members of the council hailed the decision, including Councilmember Jose Huizar, 14th District, who authored the motion leading to the ban.
“The city council took the first step in regaining control of what has become an out of control situation,” Huizar said. “Due to endless litigation and a severely flawed state law that has allowed profiteers and recreational users to game and abuse the system, local law enforcement has lacked any real enforcement tools. That changes with [this] important vote.”
Under what is being called a “gentle ban”, only patients who have received a doctor’s recommendation for medical marijuana usage, and their caregivers, will be allowed to grow and share the marijuana legally between groups of three people. The ban includes exceptions for hospices and some medical facilities that treat patients with severe illnesses, which will also be allowed to distribute medical marijuana to patients. The city attorney’s office will enforce the ban based on complaints received from the public and the police department, whose officers will be monitoring the dispensaries. Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck also supported the ban, and has stated that the dispensaries in many cases are for-profit businesses that attract crime.
City Councilman Paul Koretz, 5th District, said he initially opposed the ban but voted for it because he said it was inevitable that it would have been approved. He authored a motion, that was also approved by the council on Tuesday, where the council will consider allowing the approximately 180 dispensaries operating legally within the city to reopen. Koretz said he wants patients who need medical marijuana to have access through dispensaries, because many of them will have difficulty in growing the drug themselves.
“I think there will be virtually no access to medical marijuana [under the ban],” Koretz said. “People with cancer or AIDS and other debilitating diseases will not be able to grow the marijuana.”
Koretz added that he does think the number of dispensaries operating within the city has spiraled out of control, and that some form of regulation was needed. In the Melrose District, which is represented by Koretz, more than 15 dispensaries have operated at the same time between Fairfax and Highland avenues.
“It’s one thing to have 100 operating in the city, but when you have 1,000, which is what some people estimate the number to be, then that is out of control,” Koretz said. “It is a very significant problem, but at the same time, we want to provide access to people who need it.”
Peter Nichols, the co-founder of the Melrose Action Neighborhood Watch, said he is cautiously optimistic about the ban. Nichols’ group has been fighting the proliferation of dispensaries in the Melrose District for the past few years, and said the problem continues unabated. He did not have an exact number of the dispensaries currently operating in the area, but said new ones have opened within the past couple of months.
“It’s a direction that is long overdue,” Nichols said. “Off the top of my head, I’m skeptical, and my skepticism is rooted in the fact that the estimate goes from 700 to 1,000 dispensaries operating in the city, and how are they going to shut all of those down? How are they going to enforce all of the code violations, and where are they going to get the resources?”
Koretz added that the city’s ban may ultimately be in vain, as the State Supreme Court is expected to examine the issue within the next year, and could rule that cities do not have the authority to regulate medical marijuana dispensaries. The ban may also be unenforceable under federal law, which prohibits the use of medical marijuana. In addition, dispensary owners and advocacy groups have vowed to sue the city over the ban, potentially miring the ordinance in litigation.
“At some point, the Supreme Court will provide some clarity on this issue,” Koretz said. “In the meantime, some dispensaries that have criminal activity will be eliminated, and patients will have little access.”