The week started off with a bang, as Americans for Safe Access Chief Counsel Joe Elford threatened to file a lawsuit against Los Angeles if the city banned medical marijuana “sales.” The threat was in response to public statements made by City Attorney Carmen Trutanich that over-the-counter sales of medical marijuana are illegal under state law. Trutanich had been urging the Los Angeles City Council to adopt his proposed ordinance banning over-the-counter sales.
ASA is confident that Trutanich has a flawed interpretation of state law. The Medical Marijuana Program Act, landmark court decisions, California Attorney General guidelines, and a sales tax policy by the State Board of Equalization provide ample evidence that medical marijuana sales are legal. So, ASA decided to fight Trutanich using his own public relations strategy. The Friday before ASA threatened to file suit against the City of Los Angeles, Elford went on Air Talk, broadcast by KPCC, the NPR affiliate, to debate the issue of sales with Special Assistant City Attorney David Berger.
After ASA’s threat of litigation, and two council committees rejecting the City Attorney’s ban on medical marijuana sales, even more media was generated, with articles in the Los Angeles Times and The Wall Street Journal. Then, I appeared on a different KPCC program, the Patt Morrison Show, discussing dispensary regulations alongside West Hollywood Mayor John Duran and Los Angeles City Council member Bill Rosendahl.
Apparently, the PR campaign by ASA was working because Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley, who shares Trutanich’s misinterpretation of California’s medical marijuana law, called a press conference to threaten prosecution of dispensary operators despite any law passed by the City Council recognizing sales. Cooley was downright rabid. He was quoted in the Los Angeles Times saying the City Council “should be collectively ashamed of their failure to grasp this issue,” and calling them “irrelevant.”
With the PR campaign gaining even greater steam, Elford went back on Air Talk Tuesday for another round with Berger and Los Angeles City Council member Ed Reyes. By this time, it was clear that Los Angeles City Attorney Trutanich and District Attorney Cooley were losing their campaign to criminalize the sale of medical marijuana. Nonetheless, Elford helped to pound the final nail in the coffin by going on Air Talk one more time Wednesday, following an interview with Cooley.
Fortunately, we’ve overcome the threat to ban medical marijuana sales in Los Angeles. The City Council seems poised to vote next week on an ordinance, and while it may still have flaws, we can at least celebrate the defeat of Trutanich and Cooley’s anti-sales campaign. By all appearances, we are nearing the passage of an historic medical marijuana dispensary ordinance for the City of Los Angeles.