L.A. City Council approves final piece of medical marijuana ordinance

April 15, 2010

John Hoeffel, Los Angeles Times

Hundreds of medical marijuana dispensaries in Los Angeles will soon be notified that they must shut down in June, when the city's medical marijuana ordinance will take effect. The City Council decided Friday to approve fees that dispensaries will be required to pay to register, the last piece of the long-delayed ordinance. When those fees are effective, which is expected to be around June 4, city officials will send cease-and-desist letters to illegal dispensaries. The city's medical marijuana ordinance allows only dispensaries that registered under the city's 2007 moratorium to continue to operate under its new law.

"It was the wild, wild West for weed in Los Angeles for some time, and we are going in the direction to finally take control of the situation," said Councilman Jose Huizar, who helped draft the medical marijuana ordinance. "This is a very significant step."

Operators of the dispensaries that will be forced to shut down have been weighing their legal options, which include suing the city to challenge the ordinance.

Only a few medical marijuana activists showed up for the vote. They expressed concerns about the ordinance, saying it was still too restrictive. Many operators of dispensaries that will be allowed say they are having trouble finding sites that comply with the location restrictions, including the 1,000-foot setback from places such as churches, schools and parks.

Don Duncan, who is the California director of Americans for Safe Access, which has sued the city over the ordinance, told the council: "We're not yet finished with the work of regulating medical cannabis in the city of Los Angeles."

Huizar said the council would monitor how the ordinance was working. "Like any ordinance, we will see how it works in practical terms and come back and adjust it if we have to, but the bottom line is we had to take control of the situation," he said.

Huizar's council district saw a rapid proliferation of medical marijuana stores that triggered complaints from outraged neighborhood associations. He said he still receives complaints from residents, but said he believed the number of dispensaries has stabilized.

The dispensary fees were not controversial. In addition to standard charges, the special fees would add up to about $1,200 for a manager registering an existing dispensary. Huizar called them "the final step" and said they were "pretty fair and reasonable."

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