|Photo: Medical Marijuana Blog|
The Los Angeles City Council gave final approval Friday to a fee schedule for medical marijuana dispensaries, adding the last element to the years-long effort to regulate pot shops in the city.
The council approved the measure by a 9-1 vote, with Councilman Bill Rosendahl continuing to oppose the measure, which he said is too restrictive, reports Rick Orlov at the Los Angeles Daily News.
Although Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa signed the dispensary ordinance into law on February 3, the city was required to adopt a supplemental permit fee ordinance before the law could take effect.
Strict new rules will go into effect on where dispensaries can operate. The pot shops won’t be allowed to locate within 1,000 feet of schools, parks, libraries, churches, and other so-called “sensitive uses.”
Even more problematic, according to marijuana advocates, is a provision prohibiting dispensaries from locating next to or across the street from residential property, which excludes almost all of the city’s commercial zones.
Despite official requests of the Planning Department to produce maps that would indicate all of the available areas in the city a dispensary can be located, city staff were never able to satisfy those requests.
But conspicuously deleted from the final ordinance was a controversial provision that caused medical marijuana advocacy organization Americans for Safe Access (ASA) to file a lawsuit against the city. The ordinance previously required dispensary operators to find a new location within seven days after the law took effect, which ASA argued was a violation of due process.
|Joe Elford, ASA: “We have clearly won our legal challenge and forced the city to improve its medical marijuana dispensary ordinance”|
”We have clearly won our legal challenge and forced the city to improve its medical marijuana dispensary ordinance,” said ASA Chief Counsel Joe Elford. Elford filed the lawsuit on behalf of Venice Beach Care Center and PureLife Alternative Wellness Center, two dispensaries that have operated in Los Angeles since before the city’s moratoriuum.
“This amended ordinance now gives dispensaries up to six months to find somewhere in the city to locate,” Elford said. “The city ought to think twice about conducting any further raids before dispensaries have had a chance to comply with the new regulation.”
“However, the legal battle is far from over,” Elford said. “The buffer zones and other location restrictions are so onerous and complicated that they throw into question whether dispensaries will be able to comply with the ordinance, and whether the city will be able to successfully implement the law.
The due process victory by ASA is not its first in pushing the city toward more realistic and functional dispensary regulations. In November, when the City Council was considering completely outlawing the sale of medical marijuana, ASA threatened to file suit.
The city avoided costly litigation by reaching a compromise on the issue of sales. However, recent actions by City Attorney Carmen “Nuch” Trutanich throw that compromise into question, according to ASA.
After aggressive law enforcement raids in February, the City Attorney filed nuisance abatement actions against two dispensaries, Organica and Holistic Caregivers, accusing them of engaging in illegal sales of medical marijuana.
ASA said it is currently considering its legal options after a Los Angeles Superior Court judge on Tuesday granted the city’s motion for a preliminary injunction.
Mayor Villaraigosa has 10 days to sign the final amended ordinance, which will become effective 30 days after being signed.
If all goes according to plan, the city’s current 800 dispensaries will be reduced in number to the 187 shops that were open before a moratorium was put into place. The rest of the dispensaries opened under a boilerplate hardship exemption included in the moratorium’s language.
When any of those 187 shops closes, it won’t be replaced until the number is reduced to 70, according to the city council.
Under the plan approved Friday, dispensaries will have to pay almost $1,600 in fees in order to operate legally. Included is $688 for building and safety permits, and $151 for a police background check.
City Attorney Trutanich has already started trying to shut down many of the existing dispensaries, claiming he believes they are illegally profiting from medical marijuana sales.
Advocates accuse City Attorney Trutanich and Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley of manufacturing fear around medical marijuana dispensaries.
A recent study, commissioned by Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck, compared the number of crimes in 2009 at the city’s banks and at its medical marijuana dispensaries. The study found that 71 robberies had occurred at the more than 350 banks in the city, compared to 47 robberies at the more than 500 medical marijuana dispensaries.
“Banks are more likely to get robbed than medical marijuana dispensaries,” Chief Beck said. He added that the claim that dispensaries attract crime “doesn’t really bear out.”