LOS ANGELES --- The country's largest medical marijuana advocacy organization, Americans for Safe Access, filed a lawsuit against the City of Los Angeles today, claiming that certain provisions in a recently adopted regulatory ordinance would shut down virtually all dispensaries in the city.
The local medical marijuana law passed by the City Council and signed by Mayor Villaraigosa on February 3rd requires dispensaries to find a new location within 7 days after the ordinance takes effect. In order to comply with the ordinance, dispensaries must be located at least 1,000 feet from schools, parks, libraries, churches and other so-called "sensitive uses," and cannot abut or be across the street from any residence, which excludes almost all commercial areas in the city.
"The dispensary ordinance passed by the Los Angeles City Council might have been reasonable, if not for some onerous provisions," said ASA Chief Counsel Joe Elford, who filed the lawsuit today. "The requirement to find a new location within 7 days is completely unreasonable and undermines the due process of otherwise legal medical marijuana dispensaries." Despite spending more than two years to develop regulations, the Los Angeles City Council passed an ordinance without maps to show where dispensaries could locate in order to comply with the law.
Among other restrictive provisions, the Los Angeles regulations require that dispensaries "notify the City Clerk within one week after the effective date of this ordinance of their intention to register...at an identified location." The lawsuit's plaintiffs, Venice Beach Care Center and PureLife Alternative Wellness Center, two dispensaries that have operated in Los Angeles since before the city's moratorium, call the 7-day requirement to find a new site unnecessarily prohibitive. Plaintiffs further argue that without the assistance of maps such a requirement is inconceivable.
"We want to work with the city to comply with its regulations, but such unreasonable requirements make compliance impossible," said plaintiff Yamileth Bolanos of PureLife Alternative Wellness Center. "We are more than willing to negotiate a compromise that would cut short costly litigation." The plaintiffs understand that the City of Los Angeles is facing a budget shortfall of more than $200 million and want to strike a fair balance between the concerns of elected officials and the needs of thousands of area patients that rely on local dispensaries. Given the city's economic crisis, many also question the rationale of expensive enforcement action recently taken by the Los Angeles City Attorney.
Over the past few years, more than 40 California localities have adopted ordinances regulating dispensaries. According to advocates, the Los Angeles regulatory ordinance is one of the most recent and most restrictive in the state. Advocates claim that certain provisions in the local law threaten to shut down all of the city's dispensaries and amount to a de facto ban. "The whole point of the moratorium was to study the impact of restrictions like these," said ASA spokesperson Kris Hermes. "Unfortunately, a sufficient assessment never happened." The Planning Department was unable to provide residential buffer zone maps prior to the passage of the ordinance and, according to city staff, may never be able to produce them.
Both plaintiff dispensaries have operated since 2006 without any negative incidents, criminal or otherwise, and have established good relations with neighbors. A recent study commissioned by Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck, comparing the number of crimes in 2009 at the city's banks and medical marijuana dispensaries, found that 71 robberies had occurred at the more than 350 banks in the city, compared to 47 robberies at the more than 500 medical marijuana facilities. Chief Beck observed that, "banks are more likely to get robbed than medical marijuana dispensaries," and that the claim that dispensaries attract crime "doesn't really bear out."