L.A. Council Close to Repeal of Ban on Marijuana Dispensaries

By Richie Duchon, City News Service

The Los Angeles City Council tentatively voted Tuesday to repeal the ban it imposed on storefront medical marijuana dispensaries about 2 1/2 months ago.

The City Council in July approved an ordinance that banned all storefront medical marijuana dispensaries but allowed patients and licensed caregivers to grow their own cannabis. The so-called “gentle ban” ordinance also allowed three or fewer parties to collectively grow pot.

The Committee to Protect Patients and Neighborhoods – a coalition of medical marijuana advocates comprising Americans for Safe Access, the Greater Los Angeles Collective Alliance and United Food and Commercial Workers Local 770 – subsequently gathered the necessary 27,425 signatures needed to put a referendum of the law on a city election ballot.

Conceding that a referendum was sure to pass, the council voted 11-2 in favor of repealing the law instead of putting it to voters.
Because the vote was not unanimous, the repeal measure must to come back for a simple majority vote of the 15-member body next week. Council members Jose Huizar and Joe Buscaino favored letting voters decide whether to repeal the gentle ban.

The council’s vote came after an impassioned plea from Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who has been using marijuana as he battles cancer.

“On the 20th of July, I had an MRI that was very, very serious, and the bottom line on that was, they didn’t give me much time to live. And I said no, no, no, no. I’m not ready to go. I certainly want to live a long time,” Rosendahl said. “If I can’t get marijuana and it’s medically prescribed, what do I do? What do all the people who have health issues and have been relying on it?”

Rosendahl attacked President Barack Obama’s decision last year to start going after medical marijuana dispensaries. Federal authorities last week initiated the closure of 68 pot shops, including some in Eagle Rock, Boyle Heights and downtown.

“Frankly, Obama did a disservice when he turned around and said, ‘Oh, well, it’s OK.’ Then he brings in his attorneys and starts closing them. So he didn’t get his message straight with himself.”

Council members also approved a resolution sponsored by City Council President Herb Wesson that asks the Legislature to fix state law to give municipalities clear guidelines on how to regulate the distribution of medical marijuana.

The existing law “fails to respond to fundamental issues and … has been inappropriately used as a legal shield to stymie local governments from solving many resulting problems,” according to Wesson’s resolution.

Marijuana advocates hailed the expected repeal, saying it would allow safe access for critically ill cancer, AIDS and other sick patients.

“We think this is a very good first step in getting to a place where the city could appropriately regulate dispensaries and also provide safe access for patients,” said Rigoberto Valdez Jr., director of organizing for UFCW Local 770, which represents about 500 workers at 50 marijuana dispensaries.

However, council members were divided on what the repeal actually means for dispensaries and agreed more needs to be done.
Councilman Mitch Englander said the repeal effectively makes every dispensary in the city illegal. “As of today, there is nothing on the books that allows them,” he said.

Englander also introduced a motion that asks for a report from the LAPD and the Department of Building and Safety to report on how the departments will pursue enforcing “existing zoning regulations,” which Englander said do not allow for pot shops.

Councilman Paul Koretz, however, said very little will change if the ordinance is finally repealed. He urged swift passage of an ordinance he sponsored that would allow about 125 dispensaries that were open before Sept.14, 2007, when the city placed a moratorium on new dispensaries, to remain open under strict regulations governing location, hours of operation and security.

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October 4, 2012  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.

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