Both sides of pot issue push agendas as L.A. set to renew debate on clinics

July 22, 2012

Rick Orlov, LA Daily News

With the Los Angeles City Council set to renew its debate over medical marijuana clinics, community groups and advocates on Monday pushed for competing proposals to either ban all clinics or allow a limited number to remain open.

Returning from a three-week recess, the City Council is scheduled today to consider the different proposals on controlling dispensaries, estimated at numbers ranging up to 800.

Some community leaders and residents urged the council to adopt a proposal from Councilman Jose Huizar for a complete ban on clinics until the courts rule on what is allowed.

"I am not opposed to compassionate use of marijuana," said Jennifer Moran, who lives in East Hollywood and works in the Hollywood film district. "But there are so many clinics that you can't get away from it. When I'm home, you see people in front of my home standing around and smoking for 20 minutes. When I call the police, they say there is nothing they can do."

Moran said she would like the city to develop a system where a specified number of clinics are allowed to operate to try to limit the number of clinics.

Eric Moore, who also lives in East Hollywood, said the city needs to take action.

"If they want to rebuild Hollywood like they say, they have to make it welcoming to people," Moore said. "No one is going to want to live in a Hollywood high-rise if they have people around their cars smoking marijuana."

Susan Blauner, director of the Drug and Alcohol Coalition of the San Fernando Valley, said the city needs to limit where marijuana is available.

"Marijuana is a gateway drug," Blauner said. "My concern is that we see 17-year-olds, 16-year-olds, 15-year-olds and even some kids as young as 9 or 10 smoking marijuana. We need to act before we lose all these kids."

Also on Monday, a group of medical marijuana users and clinic operators rallied to urge the City Council to adopt a proposal from Councilman Paul Koretz that would return to a proposal allowing 100 clinics to operate.

Chanting "no ban, there's a better policy" and wearing green T-shirts from the United Food and Commercial Workers, the demonstrators - many in wheelchairs - said they needed to have safe access to marijuana.

"I don't want to risk getting arrested," said William McKinley Smith, who said he gets the marijuana oil he needs for his skin cancer from an Eagle Rock clinic.

"It is not easy to grow marijuana and cultivate it. To get the marijuana oil I need, I could blow myself up.

"It is much better to be able to get it from a safe clinic."

UFCW Organizer Rigo Valdez said 40 collectives are represented by the union and provide a safe haven for those needing the marijuana and living wage jobs to their employees.

"We think this is the best way for patients, caregivers and operators," Valdez said. "We support limited access. It provides a pathway for people to get the medicine they need."

Also, he said it provides a way for the city to get more revenue through taxation.

In 2010, voters approved a tax of $50 per $1,000 of revenue for the clinics. The city Office of Finance has estimated the tax resulted in more than $2.4 million in revenue for the city.

Kris Hermes, a representative of the pro-medical marijuana group Americans for Safe Access, said he is not surprised to see the effort to ban all clinics.

"This is merely a group of not-in-my-backyard lobbyists with no plan other than to tell patients they can grow their own," Hermes said.

"Patients need better than that. In a city of nearly 4 million people, there are thousands of people who need a safe and legal way to obtain their medication."

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