|Photo by Shay Sowden, Wikimedia Commons|
|L.A.'s dispensaries remain open, for now.|
Ignoring the advice of anti-pot City Attorney Carmen Trutanich, two Los Angeles City Council committees yesterday rejected a proposed ban on sales of medical Marijuana.
Anti-pot zealots within L.A. city government had coordinated an 18-month assault on the dispensaries, with headline-grabbing pronouncements from media hogs Trutanich and Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley dominating coverage of the issue in recent weeks.
Both Trutanich and Cooley have been widely quoted in the press as claiming that most of the dispensaries are operating in violation of state law. Cooley's recent declaration that "approximately zero
" of the dispensaries were operating legally sent chills and outrage through the medical Marijuana community, seeming to echo San Diego District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis' statement that there are "no such things
" as legal dispensaries.
The planned finalé, however, doesn't seem to
be going according to script. This meeting was widely seen in the
Marijuana community as an attempt to deliver a coup de grace to the
burgeoning dispensary scene in Los Angeles, but it didn't turn out that
Medical Marijuana patients and
providers turned out in large numbers for the meeting, a joint session
of the city council's Public Safety and Planning and Land Use
committees. Dozens of dispensary owners and pot users argued that the
ban would simply put an end to safe access to Marijuana for city
patients. Don Duncan, California director for patient advocacy group
Americans for Safe Access (ASA), said of the proposed ban, "It simply
Council members on both
committees wrestled with the idea of ignoring the opinion of the city's
top prosecutor. But after four hours of a contentious and heated
hearing, council members had heard more than enough.
"When can we finally stop the merry-go-round?"
asked Councilman Dennis Zine, who has been involved with the dispensary
issue since 2005. Zine proposed an alternate provision allowing
dispensaries to accept cash for Marijuana as long as they comply with
A complete sales ban would have
taken Los Angeles into legally perilous and untested territory. Both
ASA and a group called the Union of Medical Marijuana Patients
threatened to sue the city if the council adopted the ban.
Deputy City Attorney William Carter, sent by Trutanich to do the dirty
work of arguing before a largely hostile audience that state law and
state court decisions mean collectives cannot lawfully sell pot, found
his remonstrations falling upon deaf ears despite his best attempts to
whip up some anti-weed hysteria.
unyielding position of Trutanich and his minions didn't go unnoticed,
or unremarked upon, by Councilman Ed Reyes. "I think they are very,
very narrow in that they're taking their prosecutorial perspective," an
annoyed Reyes said.
"We need something on the
books now. There is no reason we should delay, Reyes said. The full
city council is expected take up the long-delayed dispensary
regulations as soon as Wednesday.
concern is making sure we allow enough flexibility so that people who
are sick have access, that we do not create an environment where the
only function of the ordinance will be to eradicate them all," Reyes
said a day before the meeting. "I don't think it's fair or humane to
people who are really sick who need it."
Councilman Paul Koretz
, former mayor of West Hollywood, said the regulations backed by by the City Attorney's Office are "unworkable.''
think we have one goal here, which is to provide access but at the same
time eliminate the problems that medical Marijuana dispensaries have
been causing," Koretz said. And to do that, I would ask colleagues why
we have to take the hardest-ass approach to the law that we could,
rather than trying to take the approach that will make this as
practical as possible.''
A crowd of
about 400 people filled the main council chamber for the hearing, with
the proceedings often becoming raucous. Most of the speakers were
medical Marijuana supporters, along with a sprinkling of community
activists and conservatives who supported the ban.
supporters argued that dispensaries should be regulated, not banned,
with a reduction in the number of shops and a crackdown on operations
that become a public nuisance.
proposed ordinance would have "effectively shut down the city's medical
Marijuana distribution system by banning all sales of Marijuana and
sharply curtailing collectives' ability to grow and obtain medicine,''
according to the California chapter of the National Organization for
the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). Furthermore, NORML estimates that
closing most or all dispensaries would cost Los Angeles between $36
million and $74 million in lost sales taxes, and the loss of jobs to
6,500 dispensary employees.
number of dispensaries ballooned from only four in 2005, when the city
council first began to take notice, to more than a thousand, the city
attorney's office estimates. In 2007, when Los Angeles adopted a
dispensary moratorium, 186 pot shops were in business. Hundreds more
soon slipped through a boilerplate hardship exemption, and the rush was
A recent poll
showed that more than three-quarters of Los Angeles County residents
favored regulation, rather than elimination, of the dispensaries.
legalized medical Marijuana with Proposition 215 in 1996. The law was
expanded with SB 420 in 2003, allowing collectives to grow the herb.
According to guidelines issued by Attorney General Jerry Brown (PDF
), medical Marijuana providers are supposed to operate as non-profits.