Chronic City: Pot Panic -- L.A. In a Dither Over Dispensaries

Pot traffic light.jpg
What will the signal be from the L.A. City Council?
When the Los Angeles City Council passed a moratorium on medical Marijuana dispensaries in 2007, there were 186 dispensaries registered with the city, compared to only four (one each in Hancock Park, Van Nuys, Rancho Park and Cheviot Hills) in 2005. Two years after the moratorium, more than 600 dispensaries are in operation, according to the L.A. Times.

The proliferation of dispensaries led to the moratorium, which included a standard boilerplate provision for hardship exemptions which allows dispensaries to appeal to the City Council to be allowed to operate. The Times reports that medical Marijuana entrepreneurs discovered last year that the city attorney's office wasn't prosecuting dispensaries which had filed for hardship exemptions, because the City Council needed to rule on them first -- but the Council hasn't acted on any of the 508 applications.

Planning committee chairman Ed Reyes told the Times that none of the hardship applications have been brought up for review because he expected them to become moot once L.A. passes its anticipated medical Marijuana regulations.

At first, most of the hardship applications were filed by dispensaries that had tried to register by the deadline but initially failed to meet requirements regarding subjects such as liability insurance coverage and city business tax registration. But, by 2008, new storefront dispensaries started to apply, arguing for exemptions on the grounds of providing a needed community service.

Predictably, the reaction by anti-pot crusaders has been swift and shrill. The ripples have spread to the other side of the pond, with the United Kingdom's Guardian breathlessly announcing, "In short, government incompetence will make your kid high, if your kid can fake a nerve damage injury."

The City Council says it approved the 2007 moratorium to buy time to write an ordinance regulating the dispensaries -- which still isn't ready after more than a year of work. On Tuesday, the Council's planning committee took a step to strike the hardship loophole from the moratorium by sending a motion before the entire Council.

Patient advocates in Los Angeles can only hope that the hysteria and steady mainstream media drumbeat won't adversely affect safe access to herbal medicine. "There is a thing called supply and demand, and we aren't in need of paternalistic government," Stewart Richlin, an attorney representing more than 100 patient collectives, told the Times.

But with an embarrassed City Council smarting over charges of incompetence, it seems increasingly likely that, once again, patients will pay the price.

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