Los Angeles city councilman proposes marijuana ban
November 22, 2011
Robert Jablon, Associated PressThe nation's second-largest city would ban medical marijuana dispensaries under a plan introduced Wednesday that could shutter hundreds of clinics.
Councilman Jose Huizar introduced the ban, arguing that a state appellate court ruling last month involving the city of Long Beach made city regulations unenforceable.
"It will mean shutting down over 300 dispensaries but I don't see we have any other choice," Huizar said in a telephone interview after the City Council hearing. "If we do nothing, we will see dispensaries pop up all over the city."
His motion was sent to two committees and could reach the full council in a month or two, Huizar said.
Opponents and medical marijuana collective owners promised to fight a ban, arguing that it would force the sick to buy their marijuana from criminals.
Richard Kearns, 60, has AIDS and is a longtime medical marijuana user.
"I'm dying," he told the City Council. "I weigh 127 pounds. I'm standing in front of you in diapers. This business about kicking out the medical marijuana ordinance is shameful. Shame on you."
Los Angeles and many other cities have been trying to deal with the proliferation of storefront marijuana dispensaries in the wake of Proposition 215, the 1996 state ballot initiative that legalized possession and use of pot for medical reasons.
The clinics call themselves collectives and buyers must be members and have prescriptions. Critics argue that the prescriptions are easily obtained and some clients obtain the drug for recreational rather than medicinal use.
At its peak, Los Angeles had some 800 clinics. Huizar said there are currently around 300 in operation.
Critics voiced concerns that the clinics would attract crime and bring down property values. Some cities reacted by attempting to ban clinics outright while others set strict limits. After years of wrangling, Los Angeles approved creating a lottery to limit the number of marijuana dispensaries to 100 and to separate them geographically.
However, those rules haven't taken effect as more than 50 lawsuits challenging them make their way through the courts, Huizar said.
Meanwhile, California's 2nd District Court of Appeal on Oct. 6 struck down efforts by Long Beach to register pot clinics and make them pay fees. The court, ruling in the case Pack v. City of Long Beach, said the city's ordinance was pre-empted by federal law that considers marijuana an illegal drug.
The appellate ruling makes Los Angeles' rules unenforceable for now, Huizar argued. A ban would be a stopgap measure until the state Supreme Court decides the case, which could take up to two years, the councilman said.
Don Duncan, California director of the pro-medical marijuana group Americans for Safe Access, disagreed that the Long Beach ruling kills Los Angeles regulating efforts. The ruling, if upheld, "in no way" forbids such regulations, he told the City Council.
"Sensible regulations reduce crime and reduce complaints," he said, adding that approving a ban would mean "you're choosing to turn your back on legal patients."
However, Huizar argued that the state law still permits patients or their caregivers to grow their own supplies.
"They don't have to go to the black market," he said.
Huizar acknowledged that passing the ban will be challenging because council members disagree on how to deal with the clinics, Huizar said.
And there's a financial interest at stake.
"What we're doing is putting a multimillion-dollar industry out of business in the city of L.A.," Huizar said.