|Photo: LA Kush|
Dozens of dispensary owners across Los Angeles are seeking legal help to keep their shops open despite being threatened with six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. Collectives which stay open after June 7 could face a daily fine of $2,500.
Letters have already been sent to property owners and dispensaries as a result of the ordinance approved by the City Council earlier this year that sharply restricts the locations where the businesses are allowed to open, reports C.J. Lin at the L.A. Daily News.
The ordinance also seeks to close all the hundreds of facilities that opened after November 13, 2007, when Los Angeles issued a temporary moratorium on new dispensaries.
The ordinance specifically exempts the 186 collectives that had already opened or registered with the city before the moratorium, but it now requires them to re-register before opening. An estimated 130 of the original 186 are believed to still be in operation.
“We hope that because we have provided them with so much notice, that they will voluntarily close,” said Asha Greenberg, the assistant city attorney who heads up City Attorney Carmen Trutanich’s push to crack down on the proliferation of dispensaries. “And (then) we won’t have to bring any legal action in the first place.”
Los Angeles is expected to face some legal battles as some of the dispensaries, which have valid business permits but failed to register before the moratorium, try to get an injunction to block the ordinance.
A group of 21 collectives that filed two lawsuits against the city on April 20 had grown to 44 shops by last week.
One lawsuit alleges discrimination by the city against the dispensaries that did not register by 2007, according to David R. Welch, one of the attorneys representing the group.
“They’re trying to make a distinction in the ordinance between people that registered by Nov. 17 and those that opened afterwards that didn’t register,” Welch said. “Our basic principle is you can’t do that because it’s unconstitutional because there’s no distinction.”
The second suit seeks financial compensation for the collectives which opened after the moratorium, because the city allowed them to open in the first place, according to Welch.
“The city issued licenses, permits, required people to do building and renovating, allowed them to operate, allowed them to pay taxes,” Welch said. “Now because the political winds have changed, they’re trying to get rid of them.”
City Attorney Trutanich claims that, based on his reading of the medical marijuana law, Proposition 215, most dispensaries operate illegally because they offer cannabis for sale, instead of operating as nonprofit collectives composed of members who grow and cultivate marijuana for their own use.
Trutanich’s narrow interpretation of Prop 215 is shared by Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley, but is considered a hardline or even an extremist position in many areas of the state.
Despite that, Superior Court Judge James C. Chalfant sided with the city last month in its suit against a Venice dispensary, ruling that Organica Inc. could not operate as a retail store and that members are required to perform physical labor necessary to harvest marijuana for the collective’s benefit.
You may be thinking, “Wait a minute. Aren’t we talking about medical marijuana? Doesn’t that by definition mean that the patients in question are often very sick individuals with life-threatening diseases such as cancer and HIV?”
Well, yes and yes. It seems City Attorney Trutanich, District Attorney Cooley and Judge Chalfant want to put sick and dying patients to work on marijuana farms. Such stand-up guys, eh?
Los Angeles officials estimate that around 600 dispensaries opened up since the 2007 moratorium, taking advantage of a boilerplate “hardship” exemption included in the original language.
Estimates of the total number of dispensaries currently operating in the city vary widely, varying between 800 and 1,400, according to whom you ask.
Shutting down all those businesses, many of them thriving, would create a two-fold problem, according to Gary Bay, who operates Suite 215, a collective in Van Nuys. Closing these businesses at a time when the economy is already shaky is a questionable enough decision on is own.
But more problematic morally is possibly forcing patients to buy marijuana illegally because the remaining, legal dispensaries might not be able to handle demand.
“This law literally puts everything back on the street into criminal hands,” Bay said. “You’re going to have to literally go to the corner again and talk to (a drug dealer).”