Drug Law

L.A. City Council Passes Flawed Medical Marijuana Dispensary Law

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LOS ANGELES --- The Los Angeles City Council voted 9-3 today to adopt an ordinance regulating the sale of medical marijuana and establishing rules for the operation of dispensing collectives and cooperatives, otherwise known as dispensaries. Although medical marijuana advocates were able to improve parts of an ordinance that took more than two years to develop, they claim that certain provisions in the final version will effectively shut down nearly all of the existing facilities and will make it almost impossible to locate anywhere in the city. Specifically, advocates point to a "poison pill" provision that would prevent dispensaries from operating near residential property or within 1,000 feet of a laundry list of so-called "sensitive uses," including schools, libraries, parks and churches.

"This is a bittersweet victory for medical marijuana patients in Los Angeles," said Don Duncan, California Director with Americans for Safe Access (ASA), the nationwide advocacy organization that played a pivotal role in convincing the City Council to reject a proposal that banned medical marijuana sales. "Although historic, the passage of medical marijuana dispensary regulations by the second largest city in the country has been undermined by restrictions that threaten to wipe out nearly all of the dispensaries in Los Angeles."

Although the city adopted a moratorium, or Interim Control Ordinance (ICO), in 2007 to study the impact of regulations, it wasn't until the final weeks of deliberation that maps were requested from the Planning Department indicating the severity of the proposed ordinance. Even when maps and reports were provided to the council, several members seemed to disregard the likelihood that the proposed buffer zones would have serious consequences and that nearly all facilities would be forced to close. "The whole point of an environmental impact assessment, which allegedly took place during the moratorium, was to study the effect of restrictions like these," said ASA spokesperson Kris Hermes. "Unfortunately, a sufficient assessment was conducted." The Planning Department was unable to provide maps prior to the vote, which showed the impact of a buffer zone around residential property, the most onerous restriction on where dispensaries can locate.

Advocates also called the imposition of a cap on the number of dispensaries arbitrary, whether limited to 70, set by two per community district, or the 137 facilities registered with the city. Recently, the City of Denver adopted a local law allowing for the operation of 200 medical marijuana dispensaries. As a comparison, the City of Los Angeles, at approximately 3.8 million people, has more than 6 times the population of Denver. Regardless of the arbitrary cap, the vast majority of registered dispensaries do not comply with the ordinance's proximity restrictions and will either be forced to move or show that they have been "good neighbors" under a provision giving the city discretion to allow facilities to stay where they are. Litigation has been threatened and advocates expect that they will return to council chambers to amend what they call a flawed ordinance.

Despite its faults, ASA is calling the passage of this regulatory ordinance by the state's largest city an important step toward implementation of the law and an action that other cities can and should be taking. "Los Angeles has shown that the adoption of dispensary regulations is not only possible in other cities, but that it is also practical and prudent," continued Hermes. Far from being the first city in the state to regulate medical marijuana dispensaries, Los Angeles follows more than 40 other cities and counties in California that have adopted such regulations.

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