L.A. City Council Eases Restrictions on Medical Marijuana Outlets

November 21, 2010

, City News Service

The City Council tweaked its medical marijuana ordinance today to ease restrictions that would have drastically reduced the number of dispensaries allowed to continue operating in Los Angeles. The amendments are not final, because at least 12 votes are needed for an ordinance to be approved outright and only 11 council members were present today.

For final approval, a second vote is needed, but only eight votes are necessary for approval.

Councilman Paul Koretz said that under the original ordinance, "we would have, I believe, unintentionally and erroneously disqualified some dispensaries...and these (amendments) would reinstate some that I believe would have been removed by mistake."

The ordinance was aimed at closing down most of the estimated 1,000 pot shops that had opened illegally across the city.

The council ruled that only up to about 180 dispensaries would be allowed to continue operating -- specifically, those that registered with the city before a 2007 moratorium -- provided their operators set up shop at least 1,000 feet away from homes, schools, religious institutions and other dispensaries.

The council did not know the original ordinance had stringent management restrictions that ended up disqualifying about 140 of the dispensaries it had wanted to keep open.

Koretz said the original ordinance barred any change in ownership or management over the past three years, "so if a dispensary had someone stealing from them, and they fired them, and (the person fired) was one of their managers, then they now would be out of business."

He proposed, and the council gave preliminary approval to, an amendment that would allow a dispensary to stay open if it has retained at least one of its original owners.

Another amendment given preliminary approval today would give dispensary operators an extra six months -- or until June 2011 -- to come into full compliance with the rest of the provisions of the ordinance.

Several dispensary operators had complained that the time they were initially given was not enough because they had to find a new location and be subjected to several inspections.

Don Duncan, California director of Americans for Safe Access, praised the changes.

"This is a common sense improvement," he said. "It will help legal collectives stay eligible to register and to abide by the rules, which I think is the common goal shared by the council and the community."

On Tuesday, the council tentatively placed a measure on the March 8 ballot that would ask voters to consider imposing a yearly $50 tax for each $1,000 of "gross reimbursements' that collectives receive from their patients.

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