Drug Law

Amid Controversy, L.A. City Council to Vote on Medical Marijuana

| by ASA

By Don Duncan

The process that started with a motion by Los Angeles City Councilmember Dennis Zine in 2005 may reach a milestone on Tuesday, when the City Council is scheduled to vote on a draft ordinance regulating hundreds of medical cannabis collectives in the city. That vote will do little to quell controversy in the city. Advocates and neighborhood groups are both unsatisfied with the proposal. The advocate community is buzzing about lawsuits, voter initiatives, and recall campaigns. The media wants to know whom to blame, and everyone is pointing fingers.

In this milieu, Councilmembers have a lot to do if they plan to adopt the ordinance before the Thanksgiving break. At joint committee and City Council meetings last week, the Councilmembers proposed more than forty sometimes contradictory amendments to the ordinance; and in a rebuke to City Attorney Carmen Trutanich, sent instructions to staff to research other regulatory models and alternative legal interpretations. (You can download the various amendments from the Council File Management System by searching for documents related to Council File. No. 08-0923.)

In response the threat of a lawsuit from Americans for Safe Access (ASA), Councilmembers rejected a proposal by City Attorney Trutanich to ban the sale of cannabis in collectives outright on Monday. This decision prompted Trutanich’s close ally, Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley, to lash out at the City Council. Cooley told reporters on Tuesday that he would ignore the City Council and prosecute medical cannabis collectives, adding that “[City Councilmembers] are absolutely so irrelevant it’s not funny.” Not funny is right. Cooley’s comments are in bad form. Setting policy is not his job. He would serve his constituents better by leaving personal bias and rivalry out of this process.

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The lion’s share of the blame for the 11th-hour confusion lies with intransigence among the entrenched staff at the Los Angeles City Attorney’s office. The tenured senior staff left over from former City Attorney’s team has consistently insisted that sales of cannabis and storefronts that provide medicine to collective members are illegal in all circumstances. As a result of this narrow and out dated interpretation, City Councilmembers are trying to improve an ordinance aimed at regulating hypothetical communal gardens, where no money is exchanged for medicine. That is too bad for community members who want to see sensible regulations for hundreds of storefront collectives, whose proliferation initially fueled calls for regulation.

Other cities and counties are looking towards Los Angeles as an example of how to regulate medical cannabis collectives. Maybe they should think twice. The regulatory process is already succeeding in places like Sebastopol, Oakland, and San Francisco. Nevertheless, the Los Angeles City Attorney and District Attorney insist on spreading their faulty interpretation to cities like Santa Barbara, Long Beach, and San Diego. Let’s hope officials and residents there recognize the pitfalls in this approach and reject the Trutanich/Cooley model for one that respects the will of voters, lawmakers, and the courts.

The Los Angeles City Council will vote on the draft ordinance and amendments on Tuesday, November 24. The City Council meeting begins at 10:00 AM in Room 340 at City Hall.

Read more about ASA’s position on medical cannabis regulations in Los Angeles in “Advancing Medical Cannabis Regulations in Los Angeles.”