|Photo: Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times
|Budtender Kim prepares an order for a client at Green Oasis, in October 2009. Green Oasis is one of the shops that was shut down under Los Angeles’ restrictive new medical marijuana ordinance.
Los Angeles city officials announced Wednesday that only 41 medical marijuana dispensaries are eligible to stay in business under the city’s restrictive ordinance. The number is so low that the city said it will suspend the process of narrowing the number of shops, and ask a judge to rule that it is legal, reports John Hoeffel at the Los Angeles Times.
The announcement means that at least 129 of the dispensaries that had been allowed to remain open under the previous moratorium will now be forced to close.
“It was a surprise,” said Jane Usher, special assistant city attorney who worked with the City Council to draft the complex law, and is defending it in court.
Instead of moving ahead with a selection process that was sure to trigger numerous lawsuits by disqualified dispensaries, the City Attorney Carmen Trutanich’s office decided to preemptively sue the dispensaries first, and ask a Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge to confirm that the city’s process is appropriate.
“We’re trying to be proactive,” Usher said.
|Photo: Rick Loomis/Los Angeles Times
|Yamileth Bolanos, PureLife Alternative Wellness Center: “I’m not going to take this lying down. This is ridiculous.”
”I’m not going to take this lying down,” said Yamileth Bolanos, who runs PureLife Alternative Wellness Center, one of the dispensaries deemed by the city to be ineligible to continue to operate.
“This is ridiculous,” Bolanos said. “They have screwed up one thing after another. Not once have they thought about the patients of Los Angeles.”
Los Angeles is already in a legal dispute with about 85 dispensaries that have filed almost 30 lawsuits challenging the City Council’s procedure, adopted January 26, to limit the number of dispensaries.
Most of the dispensaries that have sued the city are among the more than 400 ordered to close their doors.
The City of Angels experienced an explosive growth in the number of dispensaries when, due to a boilerplate “hardship” exemption, it failed to enforce a pot-shop moratorium drafted in 2007.
The 186 dispensaries that were already open at the time of the moratorium were approved to operate, but hundreds more opened through the hardship loophole, a trend that exploded last spring after the Obama Administration said that raiding dispensaries operating legally under state law would not be a federal priority.
Judge Anthony J. Mohr, who is presiding over all the lawsuits, has set a September 21 hearing on constitutional issues. It is unclear how quickly Mohr might act on the suit, which the city attorney’s office said it intends to file Thursday.
|Photo: Kevin Scanlon/LA Weekly
|Jane Usher, special assistant city attorney, Los Angeles: “We’re trying to be proactive”
”The judge has considered things very expeditiously to date,” Usher said. “He seems to have a very keen awareness of the harm it causes to the community to leave this unaddressed.”
The City Council was acting on an estimate that around 130 dispensaries might qualify to stay open when it passed the new ordinance. Under the ordinance, however, if the number of shops dropped below 70, additional dispensaries would be chosen in a lottery.
The total number of dispensaries in the city would then be capped at 70.
Officials said 169 dispensaries applied to remain in operation, but 128 failed to meet the strict and detailed criteria. The city clerk’s office on Wednesday mailed letters to each dispensary notifying it of its status, and also posted the list (PDF)
on the office’s website.
The ordinance, which went into effect on June 7, allowed only dispensaries registered by November 13, 2007, to operate during the moratorium. But those dispensaries also had to show that the ownership and management had not changed, that the management had no major criminal record and that the dispensary’s location either had not changed or had moved just once after being evicted by landlords who received warning letters from the federal Drug Enforcement Administration.
“We took a very strict interpretation of the ordinance, and if it didn’t match the ordinance exactly, then we declared them ineligible,” said Holly Wolcott, executive officer for the city clerk.
The city said it will not try to shut down the disqualified dispensaries before a court ruling.
“As of Tuesday, the entities that filed notices of intent to register and who fully comply with state law will not be prosecuted under the city’s ordinance,” Usher said.