Chronic City: L.A. District Attorney Says City Councils Have 'No Authority' Over Medical Pot

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Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office
D.A. Steve Cooley (left) and City Attorney Carmen Trutanich: They'll keep busting dispensaries no matter what the City Council says!
It was a petulant fit of pique, certainly entertaining, and potentially hilarious -- if safe access for so many medical Marijuana patients weren't hanging in the balance.

After things didn't go his way at Monday's Los Angeles City Council joint committee meeting, District Attorney Steve Cooley pronounced Tuesday that he'd keep prosecuting medical Marijuana dispensaries, even if the council adopts an ordinance that doesn't ban sales. Cooley said his office was already prosecuting some dispensaries, and he promised to step up such efforts in December.

The D.A.'s public meltdown was a result of his frustration that the council ignored the advice of L.A. City Attorney Carmen Trutanich and changed a provision in L.A.'s proposed medical Marijuana ordinance, allowing cash transactions as long as they complied with state law.

"The City Council has no authority to amend state law or Prop. 215. Such authority is solely possessed by California voters," Cooley said. "What the City Council is doing is beyond meaningless and irrelevant."

It was a richly ironic little hissy fit, given that drama king Cooley just handed pot advocates one of their best arguments in the unfolding culture war between those who insist on the lawful implementation of Proposition 215, California's medical Marijuana law, and those asserting, damn it, all weed sales are illegal, medical or not.

"Undermining these laws via their ordinance powers is counterproductive, and quite frankly, we're ignoring them," sputtered a tantrum-prone Cooley. "They are absolutely so irrelevant it's not funny."

The revelation that city councils are "irrelevant" and can't "undermine" the state's medical Marijuana law will certainly come as encouraging news to dispensary operators in Gilroy and at least 130 other cities statewide which have banned dispensaries outright. Eight counties (Amador, Contra Costa [ban leaves one dispensary open], El Dorado, Madera, Merced, Riverside, Stanislaus, and Sutter) have dispensary bans in place. In addition, at least 64 more cities and six counties (Madera, Nevada, Tulare, San Bernardino, Placer, and San Diego) have dispensary moratoriums in place, by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy's count (ONDCP numbers and "facts" are always suspect).

At this point, L.A. City Council Members are probably wondering why they've spent four years and a ton of taxpayer money wrestling with this issue, given Cooley's new position that the city council has "no authority" to amend Prop. 215.

Councilman Ed Reyes, who has overseen the development of the city's ordinance, called Cooley's remarks "demeaning" and "a real shame."

Both Cooley and his anti-pot buddy Trutanich have been asserting for years now that Prop. 215 doesn't allow the sale of Marijuana, period. In Cooley's ideal world, members of pot collectives licensed by the city would be restricted to trading work, services, or weed for the (noncommercial!) right to receive Marijuana.

As pointed out by the L.A. Daily News, that's just not realistic. Dispensaries by the hundreds have opened across California in the 13 years since Prop 215 was ringingly endorsed by voters. The pace picked up with alacrity after SB 420, passed by the Legislature in 2003, expanded and clarified the law the allow Marijuana collectives.

So whatever the Los Angeles City Council ends up passing, it will almost inevitably be challenged by either the anti-pot forces led by Cooley and Trutanich on one hand, or the medical Marijuana advocates on the other. The losers, of course, will be the taxpayers and the medical Marijuana patients seeking safe access to pot -- with the winners being the lawyers, who've been making out like bandits for years now as the uncertainties of the medical Marijuana law are sorted out.

The full council could vote as soon as today, or possibly Friday, on the ordinance, which would regulate Marijuana dispensaries and could allow the city to shut down hundreds that have opened through a hardship exemption since a moratorium was approved more than two years ago. 


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