‘Bittersweet Victory’ In L.A.: Council Passes Flawed Marijuana Dispensary Rules


Photo: longbeachmedicalmarijuana.org

​The Los Angeles City Council voted 9-3 today to pass an ordinance regulating the sale of medical marijuana by dispensaries. The measure, which the council first began debating more than four years ago, passed quickly, without debate.

Although medical marijuana advocates were able to improve parts of the ordinance, they say certain provisions in the final version will effectively shut down nearly all of the existing facilities and will make it almost impossible for dispensaries to locate anywhere in the city.

Specifically, advocates point to what they say is a “poison pill” provision that will prevent dispensaries from operating near residential property or within 1,000 feet of a laundry list of so-called “sensitive uses,” including schools, libraries, parks and churches.
“It’s a disaster for patients,” said James Shaw, director of the Union of Medical Marijuana Patients.

Photo: ASA
Don Duncan, ASA: “This is a bittersweet victory for medical marijuana patients in Los Angeles”

​”This is a bittersweet victory for medical marijuana patients in Los Angeles,” said Don Duncan, California director with Americans for Safe Access (ASA), a nationwide advocacy organization that played a pivotal role in convincing the City Council to reject a proposal that would have banned marijuana sales.
“Although historic, the passage of medical marijuana dispensary regulations by the second largest city in the country has been undermined by restrictions that threaten to wipe out nearly all the dispensaries in Los Angeles,” Duncan said.
Although the city adopted a moratorium, or Interim Control Ordinance (ICO) in 2007 to study the impact of regulations, it wasn’t until the final weeks of deliberation that maps were requested from the Planning Department indicating the severity of the proposed ordinance.
Even when maps and reports were provided to the council, several members seemed to disregard the likelihood that the proposed “buffer zones” would have serious consequences, and that nearly all dispensaries would be forced to close.

Photo: ASA
Kris Hermes, ASA: “The whole point… was to study the effect of restrictions like these”

​”The whole point of an environmental impact assessment, which allegedly took place during the moratorium, was to study the effect of restrictions like these,” said ASA spokesperson Kris Hermes.
The Planning Department was unable to provide, before the vote, maps which showed the impact of a buffer zone around residential property — which was the most onerous restriction on where dispensaries can locate.
Advocates also called the imposition of a cap on the number of dispensaries arbitrary, whether limited to 70 (set by two per community district), or the 137 facilities registered with the city.
Hundreds of dispensaries opened in Los Angeles as the City Council debated the ordinance and failed to enforce a moratorium on new dispensaries. City officials believe more than 500 dispensaries will be required to close under the ordinance.
But some of the pot shops say they are already preparing to sue the city and collect signatures to force a referendum on the ordinance.
Recently, Denver, Colorado adopted a local law allowing for the operation of 200 medical marijuana dispensaries. By way of comparison, Los Angeles, at about 3.8 million people, has more than six times the population of Denver.
Regardless of the arbitrary cap, the vast majority of registered dispensaries do not comply with the ordinance’s proximity restrictions and will either be forced to move or show that they have been “good neighbors” under a provision giving the city discretion to allow facilities to stay where they are.
Lawsuits have been threatened, and advocates expect that the City Council will return to its chambers to amend what the advocates call a “flawed ordinance.”
The new ordinance won’t take effect until Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa signs it; the Council will then need to approve the fees that dispensaries will be required to pay to cover the city’s “cost of monitoring.”
City officials said they are “studying” those costs and expect to propose the fees — which some marijuana advocates fear will be prohibitively expensive — soon.
Once the ordinance is in place, City Attorney Carmen Trutanich’s office will send letters to affected landlords and dispensary owners ordering them to close immediately.
If the dispensaries stay open, the city attorney’s office will probably take them to court.
Despite the flaws of the ordinance, ASA is calling its passage by the state’s largest city “an important new step toward implementation of the law, and an action that other cities can and should be taking.”
“Los Angeles has shown that the adoption of dispensary regulations is not only possible in other cities, but that it is also practical and prudent,” Hermes said.
Los Angeles follows more than 40 other cities and counties in California that have adopted dispensary regulations.