Appeal for more clinics heard

September 06, 2010

Rick Orlov, Los Angeles Daily News

Operators of medical marijuana clinics appealed to the Los Angeles City Council on Tuesday to allow more clinics to stay open citywide, saying many facilities would otherwise just operate illegally. Under the city's latest interpretation of a new ordinance, only 41 clinics would be allowed to stay open citywide, even though the City Council initially said it wanted to allow at least 70.

Marijuana clinic operators and supporters said 41 was insufficient for a city this size and many clinics would simply opt to flout the law.

"While the city is targeting some clinics for closure, new ones are opening around the city in defiance of the city law," said Don Duncan, president of Americans for Safe Access in Los Angeles.

"We may need to go back to the drawing board or you will see more litigation and more stalling."

City Councilman Bill Rosendahl agreed that the city needs to revisit the limit.

"I think this is absolutely ridiculous," said Rosendahl, who represents L.A.'s Westside. "It makes no sense. Do you mean to tell me that we will only have 41 dispensaries in a city of 4 million people?"

The City Attorney's office said Tuesday it is not enforcing the 41-clinic limit until the courts rule on its validity.

Special Assistant City Attorney Jane Usher said the city is not closing down any of the clinics that have met all other city regulations.

"We are allowing all the dispensaries that had registered with the city to remain in operation until the courts decide one way or the other on the city ordinance," Usher said.

Initial reports indicated that up to 169 clinics should have been allowed under the new ordinance, and that the City Council had intended to eventually winnow the number to 70.

The 41 figure was obtained after calculating all the requirements under the new ordinance, which include restrictions on how far clinics can open from schools and churches.

The City Clerk's office two weeks ago said only 41 of the 169 clinics seeking permission to operate met the standards of the city law when it came to continuous ownership or location.

After calculating the number, the City Attorney's office decided to seek a court opinion because (it assumed local clinic operators would sue the city anyway).

In the meantime, the City Clerk's office is planning a lottery for 70 permits for clinics.

"We believe this won't be settled until the courts decide the issue," said Holly Wolcott, executive officer of the City Clerk's office. "There is no point in continuing to go through the process until the courts decide if our law is valid."

A number of the clinics have in fact joined in a common lawsuit to challenge the city's ordinance.

Rosendahl, who favors legalization of marijuana, said he believes the issue already has taken up too much of the council's time.

"We should be over and done with this," Rosendahl said. "We should legalize it, tax it and get on with it. "

Councilman Ed Reyes, who chairs the Planning and Land Use Management Committee that developed the regulations, said the city was trying to control the number of clinics with its control over land use.

"We are waiting to see what the lottery will look like and if it's fair to everyone," Reyes said. "We are trying to take the initiative to make sure it is fair."

However, not all city officials or their communities favor expanding the number of clinics allowed.

Councilman Jose Huizar met on Tuesday with residents in El Sereno who have been upset with the number of clinics that remain open. 

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