Los Angeles City Council Adopts First Reading of Medical Marijuana Dispensary Law

January 19, 2010
Los Angeles, CA -- After more than two years of deliberation, the Los Angeles City Council voted 11-3 this afternoon to adopt the first reading of an ordinance regulating the sale of medical marijuana and establishing rules for the operation of dispensing collectives and cooperatives, otherwise known as dispensaries. Patients and advocates worked tirelessly throughout this process to improve several versions of an ordinance they considered to be flawed. While advocates take credit for improvements to the ordinance, they claim that the arbitrary cap on the number of facilities and the proximity restrictions from a laundry list of so-called "sensitive uses" will undermine effective implementation of the law. A second reading and final vote on the ordinance will occur next week.

"This is a bittersweet victory for medical marijuana patients in Los Angeles," said Don Duncan, California Director with Americans for Safe Access (ASA), the nationwide advocacy organization that played a pivotal role in convincing the City Council to reject a proposal that banned medical marijuana sales. "Although historic, the passage of medical marijuana regulations by the second largest city in the country has been tempered by restrictions that threaten to wipe out nearly all of the dispensaries in Los Angeles."

Included in the ordinance passed today was a restriction advocates are calling a "poison pill," which prohibits dispensaries from locating near residential property or within 1,000 feet of a school, library, park, and many other sensitive uses. The Council rejected another proposal that would allow for a 500-foot proximity restriction, and instead chose the 1,000-foot restriction, without sufficient analysis from the Planning Department showing the impact of such a decision. Some Council members objected to these restrictions, indicating that the current ordinance would effectively close all of the dispensaries in their districts. Advocates estimate that dispensaries will be unable to locate in virtually any of the commercial zones in the city and instead will be relegated to remote industrial zones, making it unnecessarily onerous for many patients.

During the past two years of deliberations, hundreds of collectively and cooperatively-run dispensaries opened throughout the city, putting tremendous pressure on the Council to act quickly. However, advocates and opponents alike have been taken by surprise when the location restriction was proposed yesterday at the end of a long day of discussion. "Debate about whether the City of Los Angeles should regulate the sale of medical marijuana is over; we now have an ordinance," continued Duncan. "However, we still need to work with city government and community members in the coming months to address its shortcomings."

Advocates also called the imposition of a cap on the number of dispensaries arbitrary, whether limited to 70, set by community district, or 137, the estimated number of facilities registered with the city at the time of its moratorium. "The whole point of an environmental impact assessment, which allegedly took place during the moratorium, was to study the impact of restrictions like these," said ASA spokesperson Kris Hermes. "Unfortunately, that was never sufficiently done." The vast majority of registered dispensaries do not comply with the ordinance's proximity restrictions and will either be forced to move or show that they have been "good neighbors" under a provision giving the city discretion to allow facilities to stay where they are.

Despite its faults, ASA is calling the passage of this regulatory ordinance by the state's largest city an important step toward implementation of the law and an action that other cities can and should be taking. "Los Angeles has shown that the adoption of dispensary regulations is not only possible in other cities, but that it is also practical and prudent," continued Hermes. Far from being the first city in the state to regulate medical marijuana dispensaries, Los Angeles follows at least 40 other cities and counties in California that have adopted such regulations.

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