Medical Marijuana Dispensaries Banned by Los Angeles City Council
In a unanimous 14-0 vote on July 24, the Los Angeles City Council banned all retail medical marijuana dispensaries within city limits. Exemptions will allow patients and their primary caregivers to grow and share marijuana in groups of three people or fewer.
A total of 762 medical marijuana clinics have registered with the city under Measure M, which imposed a gross receipts tax on all dispensaries. An additional 100 to 200 dispensaries are currently operating without official registration, said LA City Attorney Spokeswoman Jane Usher. Los Angeles has more medical marijuana clinics than any city in the United States.
“We need to start with a clean slate,” Councilman Mitchell Englander said before the vote. “Los Angeles has experimented with marijuana and has failed.”
The original vote against the ban was 13-1, with Councilman Paul Koretz dissenting. However, the councilman later changed his vote so the ordinance could be signed more quickly by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. The ban will take effect in about 40 days, and dispensary owners who do not close their businesses could face fines or misdemeanor charges, according to the LA City Attorney’s Office.
“We think it’s absolutely outrageous what the City Council did, and we will be proceeding with our supporters,” said Kris Hermes, spokesman for Americans for Safe Access (ASA). Don Duncan, California Director for the ASA, said they are developing a plan of action for a ballot measure that would repeal the ban. “We’re not going to make this easy for the city of Los Angeles,” he said.
Los Angeles Police Department Chief Charlie Beck, who spoke at the council’s proceedings, said dispensaries can be “hot spots for crime.” In a letter to the city council, he said most pot shops are “for-profit businesses engaged in the sale of recreational marijuana to healthy young adults.”
Steven Lubell, an attorney representing several of the city’s original dispensaries, said that the ban will “simply drive distribution of marijuana underground… Is it going to go away? No. It’s going to go to a darker side.”
In a separate draft ordinance, the city council voted 9-5 to instruct city staffers to look into how 182 clinics that registered with the city prior to a 2007 moratorium on new dispensaries could be granted immunity from the ban. The proposal could be back to the council for consideration within three months, according to the LA Times.
California voters passed the Compassionate Use Act ballot initiative on Nov. 5, 1996, legalizing medical marijuana dispensaries in California. The act also allows patients with a valid doctor’s recommendation to possess and cultivate marijuana for personal medical use.
The California Supreme Court, in two companion cases in the next 12-18 months, is scheduled to decide whether the Compassionate Use Act preempts the power of cities to prohibit medical marijuana dispensaries through their zoning or business license ordinances. There are approximately 125 related cases now pending in the California state court system, according to Richards, Watson, and Gershon Attorneys at Law.
California is one of 17 states and the District of Columbia that have enacted laws to legalize medical marijuana. The possession and sale of marijuana remains illegal under federal law.
Associated Press, “Los Angeles City Council Votes to Ban Hundreds of Marijuana Dispensaries,” washingtonpost.com, July 24, 2012
Adrian Glick Kudler, “Los Angeles Just Banned All Marijuana Dispensaries,” la.curbed.com, July 24, 2012
Kate Linthicum, “LA City Council Bans Medical Marijuana Dispensaries,” latimes.com, July 25, 2012
“LA’s Medical Marijuana Mess,” latimes.com, July 26, 2012
Rick Orlov, “Pot Clinics Consider Referendum to Fight Closure,” dailynews.com, July 26, 2012
Alice Walton, “Medical Marijuana Clinics Banned by LA City Council,” scpr.org, July 24, 2012
Richards, Watson, Gershon Attorneys at Law, “California Supreme Court to Decide Whether Cities May Ban Medical Marijuana Dispensaries,” rwglaw.com, Jan. 2012