The Union Helps Cities Craft Sensible Marijuana Ordinances


Union of Medical Marijuana Patients

The Los Angeles Times, in a September 24 editorial, called on the L.A. City Council to come up with a new medical marijuana ordinance that would provide safe access through regulation that would avoid legal challenges. The Union for Medical Cannabis Patients says it is providing the Council and Planning Commission with a formula for exactly this type of legislation.
James Shaw, director of the Union, has presented to the City Council two draft ordinances which represent parts to a whole. “These Ordinances should enable the City to finally get a handle on regulating medical marijuana patient associations in Los Angeles, while providing the added benefit of avoiding litigation or having the law overturned by courts,” Shaw said. 

“The efforts to sensibly regulate the medical marijuana associations that have been serving upwards of a quarter million patients in the City of Los Angeles have failed,” Shaw explained. “The ban on allowing any dispensaries to continue to operate recently passed by the Council has now been put on hold by a referendum and held in check by a CEQA lawsuit, but otherwise would be decided by voters next March.” [CEQA is the California Environmental Quality Act, which requires a study of the environmental impact of any legislation before it can be implemented.]

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James Shaw, director of Union of Medical Marijuana Patients, speaking at a downtown Los Angeles medicinal cannabis rally in October 2009 

“The City has discussed end-running this by bringing in federal authorities to close down medical cannabis dispensaries, while the majority of residents want patients to have safe access to their medicine and don’t want them forced to go back to the black market,” Shaw said. “Meanwhile, activists are discussing new local and state initiatives that don’t take into account court decisions that have recently been made or are anticipated.”
Shaw said that The Union’s legal team has spent years studying these cases in the context of state and federal law and has come up with a formula for Los Angeles — or any other city in the state — which would enable regulation while withstanding legal challenges. The proposal to the City Council consists of two draft ordinances that address local and state issues.
These have been already been submitted to the City Planning Commission, which has been tasked by the Council to come up with a new framework for regulation. Because this is a highly politicized issue and a further mistaken direction would result in more litigation, it’s important that the Council give the planners guidance, Shaw said.
“One of the keys to making regulation work is to have medical cannabis associations operate in a more transparent way,” Shaw noted. “But patient associations have been afraid of being more open with law enforcement, which has sometimes resulted in prosecution under federal law, and they also need to protect patient privacy.


“Yet their secrecy makes law enforcement suspicious that they’re not operating as not-for-profits, as state law requires, but might be diverting medicine to the black market,” Shaw explained. “We have been working with a private local company, AgSite Secure, that would be trusted by both sides to operate as a third-party verification service to ensure that the patient associations are in compliance with state and local law, while not compromising patient privacy.”
Shaw added that The Union believes this approach would encourage patient associations to play an important positive role in their communities and attract fewer complaints. “This is a win, win, win — for patients, their associations, and neighborhoods,” he said.
“Instead of fruitlessly trying to manage by quantity by limiting the number of associations, we should be regulating for quality,” Shaw said. “We’ve done the heavy lifting in figuring out how to make regulation work, while avoiding further litigation, and we invite the City and the patient associations to study our proposals.”
For copies of the two ordinances and the two cover letters to the City Council and the Planning Commission, click here.
For more information about the Union for Medical Cannabis Patients, visit, telephone 213/626-2730 or email