LA at a Crossroads

June 13, 2012 | Don Duncan
The Los Angeles City Council will choose between two competing motions concerning medical cannabis in the near future, and the outcome will have long-term implications for legal patients in the city. One path leads to an outright ban on patients’ cooperatives and collectives; while the other may settle dozens of lawsuits, complies with existing case law, and fulfils the voters’ will for a safe and regulated access program. It should be an easy choice. But everything about medical cannabis is controversial in the state’s largest city, and what happens here could have repercussions around the state and nation. That is why Americans for Safe Access (ASA) and a growing coalition of advocates, organized labor, and other stakeholders are gearing up for what may be the last battle for safe access at City Hall.



ASA has been working with the city since 2005 to stop a ban on legal cooperatives and collectives and adopt workable regulations. This is an important, because research conducted by ASA and the experience of the last sixteen years show that sensible regulations reduce crime and complaints, while preserving access for patients. That is what voters want. A poll conducted by EMC Research last November demonstrated that seventy-seven percent of voters favor the regulation and control of medical cannabis.

City Council Members Jose Huizar and Mitchell Englander made a motion to ban all medical cannabis patients’ cooperatives and collectives in the city – even those that have tried in good faith to comply with the city’s troubled regulatory scheme. Council Members Huizar and Englander call their motion the “gentle ban,” because it would “allow” legal patients to grow their own medicine at home. That right is already guaranteed under the Compassionate Use Act (Proposition 215) and further protected by the Medical Marijuana Program Act (SB 420). The term “gentle ban” is a face-saving euphemism. The Huizar-Englander motion would create an ordinance that bans all patients’ associations, but gives no other option to the large majority of patients who do not or cannot grow their own medicine.

There is an alternative. Council Member Paul Koretz and Council President Herb Wesson have introduced a competing measure that would allow for approximately one hundred patients’ cooperatives and collectives distributed throughout the city. Their motion complies with a recent Appellate Court decision, Pack v. City of Long Beach, which if upheld by the California Supreme Court, will prevent cities from authorizing conduct prohibited under federal law (like providing medical cannabis). This “limited immunity” approach may also help settle dozens of lawsuit brought by the City of Los Angeles and patients’ associations. Better still, the Koretz-Wesson motion would create an ordinance that finally regulates medical cannabis provision in the city – something most Angelinos still want to see.

Which option the City Council chooses may depend on what patients and advocates do right now. The City Council could consider one or both of the motions at any time. Public outcry has prevented medical cannabis opponents on the City Council and at the City Attorney’s office from fast-tracking the so-called “gentle ban” and derailing the “limited immunity” option so far. The growing coalition of medical cannabis allies now includes the influential UFCW Local 770, which represents workers at more than twenty Los Angeles patients’ associations. UFCW Local 770 hosted a press conference on the issue at City Hall last week, and their action alert for City Council Members is helping keep pressure on City Hall. The voice of organized labor is just one of many to join a growing coalition committed to defeating the “gentle ban” or overturning it with a voter referendum.

This is a fight Angelinos have to fight, but everyone should be paying attention. If medical cannabis opponents succeed in banning patients’ cooperatives and collectives here, it will be a green light for other jurisdictions. We need to stop the momentum for bans in Los Angeles, before it reaches a critical mass. The City of Los Angeles is a trend setter, for better of for worse. Patients and advocates nationwide will suffer if the story of Los Angeles is one of confusion, delay, litigation, and finally a ban. The Koretz-Wesson motion is a chance to take back the momentum and get this influential city back on track. But it will not happen if those of us in the city do not dig in our heels and fight before the choice is made.

What can you do? Use the UFCW Local 770’s online action alert to send a message to City Hall right now. Then plan to join the Los Angeles Chapter of ASA on Saturday to plan the next steps. The LA-ASA meeting is at 1:00 PM on Saturday, June 16, in the Community Room (#152) at the West Hollywood Gateway Mall located at 7100 Santa Monica Blvd. in West Hollywood, CA 90046.
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