|Photo: Damon D’Amato, WAMC|
|Medical marijuana supporters march on L.A. City Hall in 2007|
Medical marijuana advocacy organization Americans for Safe Access (ASA) will hold a press conference in front of Los Angeles City Hall at 9:45 a.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 8, in advance of the expected vote on regulating dispensaries in L.A.
The City Council has indicated they might meet in closed session to make final deliberations on an ordinance that would regulate how and where medical marijuana dispensaries can operate in the city.
According to the agenda for Tuesday’s council meeting, the possible closed session is due to “threats of litigation publicly made regarding the adoption of the proposed ordinance. Last month, ASA had threatened to sue the city if it banned the “sale” of medical marijuana.
Tuesday’s meeting will likely be the culmination of a two-year struggle between pro- and anti-medical marijuana forces for dominance in the City of Angels, where City Attorney Carmen Trutanich and like-minded Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley have grabbed headlines by making inflammatory statements like “approximately zero” of the dispensaries in the county are operating legally.
”We want to emphasize that the sale of medical marijuana is legal not only in Los Angeles, but across California,” said ASA Chief Counsel Joe Elford. “We are prepared to take this issue to the courts, if necessary, to show that Los Angeles and other cities may regulate the sale of medical marijuana, but they cannot ban such sales.”
In contrast to appellate court rulings affirming the sale of medical marijuana as legal, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge complicated matters last week by threatening to issue an injunction against a dispensary in Eagle Rock, claiming “a storefront dispensary that sells marijuana” is unlawful. If such an injunction is issued, it is expected to be appealed, according to ASA.
Despite other provisions in the ordinance that remain a concern — such as an arbitrary cap on the number of medical marijuana dispensaries allowed to operate in city — the issue of “sales” is the most pressing for advocates, according to Elford.
“All eyes are on Los Angeles right now,” Elford said. “And it’s very important that the city not backtrack on its decision to allow cash transactions at medical marijuana dispensaries.”
Two weeks ago, over objections from anti-pot City Attorney Carmen Trutanich’s office, the Los Angeles City Council approved ordinance language that would allow “cash contributions, reimbursements and compensations” as long as they are not-for-profit and comply with state law.
As part of a study on sales tax, ASA estimated that in 2007 medical marijuana dispensaries provided at least $100 million in annual tax revenue to the state budget. Currently, at least 40 California cities and counties have adopted ordinances regulating dispensaries, several of which have included references to the “retail sale” of medical marijuana.
Banning the sale of pot for cash at dispensaries would be “ill conceived” because it could cost Los Angeles up to $74 million in lost lost sales tax, according to Dale Gieringer at California NORML.
“The city would be better advised to adopt a system of licensed regulation and taxes, which has proven successful elsewhere in the state,” Gieringer said.
In a poll released in October, more than three-quarters of Los Angeles County voters — 77 percent — want to see medical marijuana dispensaries regulated, rather than prosecuted and forced out of business.