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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Chronic City: L.A. Panels Reject Ban On Medical Marijuana Sales

Posted By on Tue, Nov 17, 2009 at 5:30 AM

click to enlarge L.A.'s dispensaries remain open, for now. - PHOTO BY SHAY SOWDEN, WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
  • Photo by Shay Sowden, Wikimedia Commons
  • L.A.'s dispensaries remain open, for now.
Ignoring the advice of anti-pot City Attorney Carmen Trutanich, two Los Angeles City Council committees yesterday rejected a proposed ban on sales of medical Marijuana.

​Anti-pot zealots within L.A. city government had coordinated an 18-month assault on the dispensaries, with headline-grabbing pronouncements from media hogs Trutanich and Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley dominating coverage of the issue in recent weeks.

Both Trutanich and Cooley have been widely quoted in the press as claiming that most of the dispensaries are operating in violation of state law. Cooley's recent declaration that "approximately zero" of the dispensaries were operating legally sent chills and outrage through the medical Marijuana community, seeming to echo San Diego District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis' statement that there are "no such things" as legal dispensaries.


The planned finalé, however, doesn't seem to

be going according to script. This meeting was widely seen in the

Marijuana community as an attempt to deliver a coup de grace to the

burgeoning dispensary scene in Los Angeles, but it didn't turn out that

way.


Medical Marijuana patients and

providers turned out in large numbers for the meeting, a joint session

of the city council's Public Safety and Planning and Land Use

committees. Dozens of dispensary owners and pot users argued that the

ban would simply put an end to safe access to Marijuana for city

patients. Don Duncan, California director for patient advocacy group

Americans for Safe Access (ASA), said of the proposed ban, "It simply

won't work."


Council members on both

committees wrestled with the idea of ignoring the opinion of the city's

top prosecutor. But after four hours of a contentious and heated

hearing, council members had heard more than enough.


"When can we finally stop the merry-go-round?"

asked Councilman Dennis Zine, who has been involved with the dispensary

issue since 2005. Zine proposed an alternate provision allowing

dispensaries to accept cash for Marijuana as long as they comply with

state law.


A complete sales ban would have

taken Los Angeles into legally perilous and untested territory. Both

ASA and a group called the Union of Medical Marijuana Patients

threatened to sue the city if the council adopted the ban.


Chief

Deputy City Attorney William Carter, sent by Trutanich to do the dirty

work of arguing before a largely hostile audience that state law and

state court decisions mean collectives cannot lawfully sell pot, found

his remonstrations falling upon deaf ears despite his best attempts to

whip up some anti-weed hysteria.


The

unyielding position of Trutanich and his minions didn't go unnoticed,

or unremarked upon, by Councilman Ed Reyes. "I think they are very,

very narrow in that they're taking their prosecutorial perspective," an

annoyed Reyes said.


"We need something on the

books now. There is no reason we should delay, Reyes said. The full

city council is expected take up the long-delayed dispensary

regulations as soon as Wednesday.


"My primary

concern is making sure we allow enough flexibility so that people who

are sick have access, that we do not create an environment where the

only function of the ordinance will be to eradicate them all," Reyes

said a day before the meeting. "I don't think it's fair or humane to

people who are really sick who need it."


Councilman Paul Koretz, former mayor of West Hollywood, said the regulations backed by  by the City Attorney's Office are "unworkable.''

"I

think we have one goal here, which is to provide access but at the same

time eliminate the problems that medical Marijuana dispensaries have

been causing," Koretz said. And to do that, I would ask colleagues why

we have to take the hardest-ass approach to the law that we could,

rather than trying to take the approach that will make this as

practical as possible.'' 


A crowd of

about 400 people filled the main council chamber for the hearing, with

the proceedings often becoming raucous. Most of the speakers were

medical Marijuana supporters, along with a sprinkling of community

activists and conservatives who supported the ban.


Marijuana

supporters argued that dispensaries should be regulated, not banned,

with a reduction in the number of shops and a crackdown on operations

that become a public nuisance.


The

proposed ordinance would have "effectively shut down the city's medical

Marijuana distribution system by banning all sales of Marijuana and

sharply curtailing collectives' ability to grow and obtain medicine,''

according to the California chapter of the National Organization for

the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). Furthermore, NORML estimates that

closing most or all dispensaries would cost Los Angeles between $36

million and $74 million in lost sales taxes, and the loss of jobs to

6,500 dispensary employees.


The

number of dispensaries ballooned from only four in 2005, when the city

council first began to take notice, to more than a thousand, the city

attorney's office estimates. In 2007, when Los Angeles adopted a

dispensary moratorium, 186 pot shops were in business. Hundreds more

soon slipped through a boilerplate hardship exemption, and the rush was

on.


A recent poll

showed that more than three-quarters of Los Angeles County residents

favored regulation, rather than elimination, of the dispensaries.


Californians

legalized medical Marijuana with Proposition 215 in 1996. The law was

expanded with SB 420 in 2003, allowing collectives to grow the herb.


According to guidelines issued by Attorney General Jerry Brown (PDF), medical Marijuana providers are supposed to operate as non-profits.

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