L.A. councilman calls for ban on pot shops
November 23, 2011
Rick Orlov, LA Daily News
Concerned that recent court rulings have created a new boom in medical marijuana dispensaries, a Los Angeles City Councilman proposed Wednesday a complete ban on pot shops.
Councilman Jose Huizar said the city has tried to balance patient needs with community protection by enacting laws and permits that limit the number of pot shops and their proximity to schools, homes and other dispensaries. Now the court has thrown into question L.A.'s ability to regulate dispensaries.
"What I am concerned is that we will see a new proliferation of these clinics," Huizar said, estimating there are more than 300 clinics now operating within the city. At one point, officials estimated there were more than 1,000 clinics operating without regulation.
"This is something we have been grappling with for years," Huizar said. "We tried to regulate the clinics, but have been prevented from enforcing it because of legal challenges."
More recently, California's 2nd District Court of Appeal ruled that a Long Beach law, similar to what Los Angeles has adopted, could not be enforced. The ruling indicated that city permits essentially affirm the right of dispensaries to exist, which violates federal law that says marijuana is an illegal drug.
Chief Assistant City Attorney Bill Carter said the ruling tied the city's hands.
"What the ruling said is the city can prohibit marijuana shops, but can't authorize them," Carter said, adding that his office will not make a recommendation on the dispensary law until the City Council meets to discuss it.
Huizar's proposed ban, Carter added, would bring the city in line with the court's ruling.
But the ban could run into difficulty with the City Council where a majority of members have voiced support for Proposition 215, which allowed the clinics to be opened.
Clinic advocates call proposal misguided
Medical marijuana advocates were quick to oppose Huizar's proposal Wednesday and began lobbying the council to oppose the effort.
"To say the city can't limit dispensaries is absurd," said Kris Hermes, spokesman for Americans for Safe Access. "The city can have controls on where the clinics are located, their hours of operation and other issues.
"It would be extremely misguided to shut these clinics and force people to go elsewhere to get the medication they need."
Don Duncan, California director of Americans for Safe Access, urged the council to oppose the outright ban.
"We have worked with you for years to develop the city regulations," Duncan said.
"If this council opts for a ban, not because you are being forced to do it, it means you are choosing it," Duncan added. "Choosing to turn your back on patients. Choosing to turn your back on clinics that have tried to follow the city laws. Don't punish the good guys."
But some community leaders said the city must act before the number of dispensaries skyrockets again.
Creating fear in the community
Michael Larsen, president of the Eagle Rock Neighborhood Council, said the failure of the city to act has created an "Alice in Wonderland" scene in which marijuana is being openly sold throughout the city.
"When we had two clinics operating in our neighborhood, there were no problems," Larsen said. "But, now, we have 15 and people throughout the area are afraid to go near them."
The city ordinance, worked on for more than three years and adopted in 2007, limited the number of dispensaries to 70 - later increased to 100 - with procedures creating a lottery for the clinics beyond the original 70 that have filed applications with the city.
It was the lottery portion, similar to the Long Beach law, which was overturned. The city measures also limited how close the dispensaries could be to one another and required distance limits from schools and residential neighborhoods.
The City Attorney's Office has been concerned about any action that would open up the number of clinics allowed in the city as well as limits.
But, with the current court rulings, City Attorney Carmen Trutanich has said the city is back to where it was before it adopted the current measure.