Advocacy Group Threatens to Sue Los Angeles if Medical Marijuana Sales are Banned

November 16, 2009
Los Angeles, CA -- Medical marijuana advocacy group Americans for Safe Access (ASA) has threatened to file a lawsuit against the City of Los Angeles if it adopts an ordinance that bans the "sale" of medical marijuana. The Los Angeles City Council is expected to vote as early as Wednesday on a medical marijuana dispensary ordinance proposed late Friday by City Attorney Carmen Trutanich. The proposed ordinance states that, "No sale of marijuana or of products containing marijuana shall be allowed, nor shall the manufacture of marijuana products for sale be permitted."

"The City Attorney has consistently argued that medical marijuana sales are illegal," said ASA Chief Counsel Joe Elford. "Neither the Los Angeles City Attorney nor the City Council has the right to ban activity that is protected under state law," continued Elford. "Medical marijuana sales have been deemed legal by the state legislature, the courts, and the California Attorney General." Medical marijuana dispensaries, as mandated, turned over at least $100 million in annual sales tax revenue to the State Board of Equalization in 2007.

ASA has litigated several landmark cases in California and now stands ready to file a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) against the City of Los Angeles to block the adoption of an ordinance that bans medical marijuana sales. The Compassionate Use Act of 1996 encouraged "federal and state governments to implement a plan for the safe and affordable distribution of marijuana." The California legislature did its part in 2003 by passing the Medical Marijuana Program Act, which specifically exempts collectives and cooperatives from criminal sanctions for "sales" (H&S Code Section 11359) and maintaining a place where sales occur (H&S Code Section 11366). In August 2008, the State Attorney General issued guidelines recognizing the legality of medical marijuana dispensaries, detailing how collectives should operate in order to be in compliance with state law.

Advocates were also troubled by other provisions in the City Attorney's proposal. Instead of removing an objectionable passage from previous proposed ordinances dealing with privacy of patient records, the City Attorney simply moved a provision which states that patient records "shall be made available by the collective to the Police Department upon request." Advocates argue while it may be necessary for the city to access limited information in order to determine compliance with state law, those records should not be made available to LAPD without a subpoena. Self-incrimination due to marijuana's status under federal law is still a concern for dispensary operators in Los Angeles and other California cities.

Another provision that advocates are objecting to is the onerous restriction on where dispensaries can lawfully operate in the city. "Collectives are prohibited from locating within 1,000 feet of a laundry list of so-called sensitive uses, such as schools, parks and libraries," said ASA California Director Don Duncan. "Proximity restrictions like this make it virtually impossible to locate a medical marijuana collective anywhere in the city." On November 5th, Los Angeles City Planning staff reported that if a previously proposed ordinance went into effect it would eliminate more than 75% of the 186 facilities registered with the city as the Interim Control Ordinance (ICO) went into effect. The current proposed ordinance goes further by prohibiting collectives from locating "across the street or alley from or have a common corner with" a residential building.

ASA remains willing and eager to work with the Los Angeles City Council on adopting a sensible regulatory ordinance that recognizes well-established medical marijuana law and also takes into account the concerns of people living and working in the City of Los Angeles.

Further information:
Latest proposed ordinance for medical marijuana collectives in the City of Los Angeles: http://AmericansForSafeAccess.org/downloads/LA_Draft_Ordinance_111309.pdf
Recent Planning staff report on impact of proximity restriction to medical marijuana collectives: http://AmericansForSafeAccess.org/downloads/LA_Planning_Report_110509.pdf
August 2008 California Attorney General guidelines on medical marijuana: http://www.ag.ca.gov/cms_attachments/press/pdfs/n1601_medicalmarijuanaguidelines.pdf

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