50,000 signatures collected to overturn L.A.'s ban on medical marijuana dispensaries

August 28, 2012

Rick Orlov, LA Daily News

The city's long struggle to control medical marijuana dispensaries took a new turn on Wednesday with the collection of 50,000 signatures on petitions to overturn the city's proposed ban on dispensaries.

If the signatures are validated once they are formally submitted on Thursday, it will put the city's ban - scheduled to take effect on Sept.6 - on hold until the March 5 municipal election.

Don Duncan, California director of Americans for Safe Access, urged the City Council to rescind its ordinance and return to negotiating with medical marijuana advocates.

"Very soon, the city will be faced with having to rescind its ordinance or put the decision before Los Angeles voters," Duncan said.

"Because of the ban's questionable future, the city ought to reconsider its tough stance on enforcing the ban."

Councilman Jose Huizar, who authored the citywide ban on the dispensaries because of their proliferation, said he remained undeterred by the threat of the referendum.

"We still plan to move forward with the idea that dispensaries do not have a right to exist," Huizar said. "If there is a stay on the ordinance, we will have no law in the city allowing the dispensaries and we will enforce state and federal laws on marijuana."

There also has been an ongoing dispute between the state and federal authorities on the issue. California voters approved medical marijuana with Proposition 215 - a measure federal authorities argue is in violation of their laws on marijuana as an outlawed substance.

Huizar said the city has tried to work with the medical marijuana community without success.

"We passed a measure that we thought worked and we were hit with 70 lawsuits," Huizar said. "It strikes me this is more about profit than getting marijuana to people who need it."

Huizar called his proposal a gentle ban in that it allowed patients and caregivers to grow marijuana without punishment.

Kris Hermes, spokesman for Americans for Safe Access, said the ease with which the signatures were gathered and the number should send a message to City Hall. They needed 28,000 signatures to qualify for the ballot; they collected 50,000.

"The patients and advocates have come forward and said the ban is unacceptable and should be reconsidered," Hermes said, adding the city chose to avoid considering ordinances from other cities that would have been acceptable.

Assistant City Clerk Holly Wolcott said the city will use a random sample of the signatures submitted to determine if the referendum qualifies for the ballot. It would be placed on the regularly scheduled March ballot to avoid any additional costs.

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