Medical Marijuana: L.A. voters approve measure to limit number of dispensaries to 135
May 21, 2013
Rick Orlov, LA Daily NewsThe overwhelming approval of Proposition D on Tuesday's ballot - and the rejection of two competing proposals - could result in the shutdown of hundreds of marijuana dispensaries around Los Angeles, but exactly how and when that would happen remains undetermined.
One thing is known, however, and that is the pot shops aren't likely to go quietly.They have already shown a tendency to fight the city through initiative and lawsuit, and some say they are continuing to weigh their legal options now.
Proposition D, written by the City Council, imposes a cap of 135 on dispensaries in Los Angeles - the facilities that were already open and registered with the city before a moratorium was put in place in 2007.
Clinics that were shut out of the 135 had proposed Initiative Ordinance F to regulate dispensaries, but not cap them. A third measure, Ordinance E, also capped the number at 135, but offered fewer other restrictions. Voters supported D with 62.57 percent of the vote, but rejected F and E.
An estimated 800 to 1,000 dispensaries or more are believed to fall outside the cap and would have 30 days after the measure takes effect in about three weeks to close down. But whether the city's enforcement action would actually begin that quickly remains unclear. A Los Angeles Police Department spokesman said it was too early to detail the enforcement plans.
Garry South, the consultant for Ordinance F, said he suspects there will be a period of reflection by clinics facing closure and then they will decide whether to challenge the measure in court.
"Proposition D has the same deficiencies as previous ordinances in that it bases the right to stay open on the interim control ordinance that already has been ruled a violation of due process," South said.
He predicted that many clinics that believe they will be able to stay open will be pressured by the federal Drug Enforcement Administration and forced to shut down.
David Welch, attorney for Ordinance F, said those discussions are already underway among clinics on whether to challenge the measure.
"We think there's a strong possibility we would prevail in a lawsuit," Welch said. "A lot of the issues have been decided already and we think we could prevail. We will be talking over the next month to decide what course of action to take."
Art Aza, the co-owner of Green Kiss Collective, a dispensary in North Hollywood, argued Measure D was more about limiting competition in the market.
"This is not about marijuana being illegal or legal, it's about controlling the number of shops and keeping the market exclusive for the lucky shops who just happened to get their license before me," Aza said. "I'm not a supporter of having too many shops, but even at 135 it still seems like a monopoly to me."
Aza, who opened his clinic at 6356 Vineland Ave. in 2012, argues that it's unfair that the reason his clinic will close and others can stay open is that they were opened before 2007, rather than basing it on the quality of their operations.
"Go ahead with regulations and close the shops that don't follow the rules," Aza said. "But if you're operating in the right place and doing good business, whether you opened before 2007 or not, there's no reason to shut down."
Incensed by the issue, Aza called it "the worst thing that I've seen in Los Angeles," but said as a businessman he'll likely be OK, ultimately looking for another type of business to open.
Proposition D received 193,969 votes, or 62.57 percent, with 72,070, or 23.43 percent, opposed to it.
Ordinance E was rejected by a margin of 97,499 in favor, or 34.55 percent, and 184,681 opposed, or 65.44 percent.
Ordinance F received 117,305 votes, or 40.88 percent, and was rejected by 169,629 voters, or 59.11 percent.
The vote was receiving statewide attention as the first test of efforts to regulate medical marijuana dispensaries since the state Supreme Court upheld the right of local jurisdictions to ban the clinics.
City Council President Herb Wesson said he was pleased with the outcome and hopes it will resolve the disputes that have raged for the past several years.
"I think this was important for us to be able to let people know how and where they can operate," Wesson said.
Wesson added the measure will put into place regulations for the city and the remaining clinic operators to follow, but he would oppose any effort to actually shut them all down.
"There are only a couple of members on the City Council who want to close them all down, and I'm not one of them," Wesson said. "I had family members who suffered with AIDS and the only way they got through it was with medical marijuana."
Welch said he is not sure the city is able to say which clinics are legal and can continue to operate.
City officials are reviewing a list of operating marijuana dispensaries and expect to have an updated one by the end of the week, said city attorney special assistant Jane Usher.
"Because of the legal uncertainties under which the industry has been operating, shops currently try to fly under the radar through a great amount of fluidity - they open, close, move, reopen, and so forth," Usher said. "The beauty of the new law is that this shuffle will become a thing of the past."
Don Duncan, California director of Americans for Safe Access - a pro-medical marijuana group that supported Proposition D - said the vote helps bring some clarity after years of uncertainty over the issue in Los Angeles.
"At long last, after more than seven years of trying to establish reasonable regulations for medical marijuana dispensaries in Los Angeles, patients can now expect safe and legal access to their medication," Duncan said.
"The vote, however, does not entitle the city to aggressively shut down disqualified dispensaries using criminal enforcement," he added. "The city should allow dispensaries to voluntarily comply with the new law and rely on civil enforcement only if necessary."
Duncan said the regulations contained in the proposal will require dispensaries to operate as nonprofits, pay local taxes, and locate at least 600 feet from public parks, libraries and other facilities. It also includes a 6 percent tax on any sales.
TLMD, a cannabis clinic at 12458 Magnolia Blvd. in Valley Village, supported Proposition D and is among the 135 clinics licensed before 2007. Avery York, a manager at TLMD, is hopeful that the measure will help weed out the unlawful collectives that have made it hard for the industry to maintain a respectable reputation in local circles.
"We don't want to see anyone have to close their doors because we knew there are new collectives that operate under state law," York said. "But there are plenty other who made a bad name for us, the ones who have tried to do it right from the beginning."