LA Council caps number of pot dispensaries
December 08, 2009
Wire Service, Daily BreezeThe Los Angeles City Council voted Tuesday to cap the number of medical marijuana dispensaries in Los Angeles at 70, but will allow almost double that number to stay open -- at least temporarily -- provided they adhere to new restrictions. The City Council granted a reprieve to 137 dispensaries that opened before a moratorium was declared in late 2007. If any of those dispensaries closes down or goes out of business, it will not be replaced until the overall number is reduced to 70.
Council members were expected to cast a final vote on the marijuana dispensary ordinance Wednesday.
Dispensaries that opened after the moratorium by taking advantage of a legal loophole will be shut down immediately. Officials estimate that between 800 and 1,000 dispensaries are operating in the city, most of them illegally selling marijuana for recreational use.
Councilman Jose Huizar proposed the cap, saying, "We've got to do whatever we can to ensure we're providing the most restrictive ordinance that we can eventually loosen up when we have to, (to increase) access." "If we allow for permissiveness in this ordinance, people will take advantage of this and then we would not only see our communities being disrupted again, but also we could possibly see us encouraging the black market to get involved in this," Huizar said.
The plan calls for spreading the 70 dispensaries among the city's 35 so- called planning areas, according to population.
Huizar said each dispensary should serve about 57,000 residents -- striking a middle ground between Oakland, which has one dispensary for every 105,000 residents, and San Francisco, which has one dispensary for every 35,000 residents.
A chart prepared by city planners showed that the Wilshire District would have the most dispensaries -- as many as six. South Central Los Angeles and northeast and southeast Los Angeles would each have five dispensaries while Hollywood would have four.
West Adams-Baldwin Hills-Leimert Park; North Hollywood-Valley Village; Van Nuys-North Sherman Oaks; Mission Hills-North Hills-Panorama City; and Canoga Park-West Hills-Winnetka-Woodland Hills would each have three dispensaries.
Boyle Heights; Westlake; Arleta-Pacoima; Sun Valley-La Tuna Canyon; Chatsworth-Porter Ranch; Reseda-West Van Nuys; and Palms-Mar Vista-Del Rey, would have two dispensaries each.
Silver Lake-Echo Park; Central City; Central City North; Sherman Oaks- Studio City-Toluca Lake-Cahuenga Pass; Sylmar; Granada Hills-Knollwood; Northridge; Encino-Tarzana; Sunland-Tujunga-Lakeview Terrace-Shadow Hills-east La Tuna Canyon; Westwood; West Los Angeles; Venice, Westchester-Playa del Rey; Brentwood-Pacific Palisades; Wilmington-Harbor City; San Pedro and Harbor Gateway would each have a single dispensary. Bel Air and the Port of Los Angeles would have none.
Also under the ordinance, each dispensary must be located 1,000 feet away from any residential property, school, public park, religious institution, licensed child care facility, youth center, hospital or rehab facility and other collectives.
Councilwoman Jan Perry introduced the buffer on residential properties at the last minute, after realizing that her district would have among the largest groupings of dispensaries.
But Don Duncan, California director for Americans for Safe Access, criticized the move.
"I'm afraid what we're looking at is a de facto ban on medical cannabis in Los Angeles and that's contrary to the will of the voters, and it's contrary to what the council has expressed at its intent," Duncan said.
"If they're going to have going to have a 1,000-foot buffer zone around a laundry list of sensitive uses that include residential areas, that doesn't really leave any territory," he said.
Councilman Paul Koretz feared the 1,000-foot buffer from residential areas would outlaw dispensaries in his district. He tried -- but failed -- to convince his colleagues to put off a vote on that provision.
"Doing this without any kind of a study I think is crazy," Koretz said. "At least give us the benefit of a reality check. If I'm wrong, I'm wrong, but have staff take a couple weeks and actually study this. I think you'll find there are big chunks of the city where we absolutely cannot locate a single dispensary."
Jane Usher with the City Attorney's office said the City Council has the option of amending the geographic restrictions six months from now.
The City Council also decided to eliminate restrictions on how much medical marijuana can be stored at a dispensary. But the dispensary operators must cultivate the medical marijuana "in strict accordance with state law."
Councilman Ed Reyes said that means the medical marijuana must be cultivated by the collectives. But some of his colleagues were not so sure.
Councilman Richard Alarcon proposed adding a provision that would require dispensaries to cultivate medical marijuana at their locations, however, it was not adopted.
To adhere to the 1996 Compassionate Use Act and 2003 Medical Marijuana Program Act, which prohibited the sale of medical marijuana, the proposed ordinance allows "cash and in-kind contributions, reimbursements and reasonable compensation provided by members towards the collective's actual expenses for the growth, cultivation and provision of medical marijuana ... in strict compliance with state law."
It defines reasonable compensation as "compensation commensurate with wages paid to employees of IRS-qualified nonprofit organizations who have similar job descriptions and duties."
To make sure collectives are not operating for profit, an independent certified public accountant would have to audit the collectives every year and submit the findings to the City Controller. Building and Safety inspectors and police officers would have to examine the location.
However, authorities could not look into patients' records without a search warrant, subpoena or court order.
The proposed ordinance requires collectives to be open between 10 a.m. and 8 p.m. and enforce stringent security measures -- including bars on their windows, closed-circuit cameras, burglar alarms, and security guards patrolling a two-block radius around the location.
As an additional precaution, collectives could not store more than $200 in cash overnight and would have to make twice-daily bank drops.
Reyes, chairman of the committee that handled the ordinance over the last two years, heaved a sigh of relief that the process was nearly over.
After voting on specific provisions today, the City Council will approve the final draft of the ordinance Wednesday.
"It's almost surreal," Reyes said. "I'm just glad we're almost here."
"I still think we have a lot more work to do," he added. "This is not a perfect ordinance. I think this is an ordinance to get us to a standard that we can handle and have the capacity to implement and enforce, and I'm hoping that we can build from this."