Medical Marijuana Advocates Hold Press Conference before LA City Council Hearing

December 07, 2009
Los Angeles, CA -- Medical marijuana advocacy organization Americans for Safe Access (ASA) will hold a press conference on Tuesday at 9:45am in front of City Hall in advance of the expected vote on regulating dispensaries in Los Angeles. The City Council has indicated they might meet in closed session to make the final deliberations on an ordinance that would regulate how and where medical marijuana dispensaries can operate in the city. According to the agenda for Tuesday's Council meeting, the possible closed session stems from "threats of litigation publicly made regarding the adoption of the proposed ordinance." Last month, ASA had threatened to sue the the city if it adopted an ordinance banning the "sale" of medical marijuana.

"We want to emphasize that the sale of medical marijuana is legal not only in Los Angeles, but across California," said ASA Chief Counsel Joe Elford. "We are prepared to take this issue to the courts, if necessary, to show that Los Angeles and other cities may regulate the sale of medical marijuana, but they cannot ban such sales." In contrast to appellate court rulings indicating the sale of medical marijuana is legal, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge complicated matters last week by threatening to issue an injunction against a medical marijuana dispensary in Eagle Rock, claiming "a storefront dispensary that sells marijuana" is unlawful. If an injunction is granted, it is expected to be appealed.
What: ASA Chief Counsel Joe Elford to speak at press conference on LA ordinance and legal status of medical marijuana "sales"
When: Tuesday, December 8th at 9:45am
Where: In front of City Hall, 200 S. Main Street, Los Angeles
Despite other provisions in the ordinance that remain a concern, such as an arbitrary cap on the number of medical marijuana dispensaries allowed to operate in the city, the issue of "sales" is most pressing for advocates. "All eyes are on Los Angeles right now," continued Elford. "And, it's very important that the city not backtrack on its decision to allow cash transactions at medical marijuana dispensaries." Two weeks ago, over objections from the City Attorney's office, the Los Angeles City Council approved ordinance language that would allow "cash contributions, reimbursements and compensations" as long as they are not-for-profit and comply with state law.

In 2005, the state court of appeal issued a landmark ruling in People v. Urziceanu that referenced the Medical Marijuana Program Act (MMPA), enacted in 2004. The court found that the MMPA "exempted those qualifying patients and primary caregivers who collectively or cooperatively cultivate marijuana for medical purposes from criminal sanctions for possession for sale, transportation or furnishing marijuana, maintaining a location for unlawfully selling, giving away, or using controlled substances, managing a location for the storage, distribution of any controlled substance for sale... Its specific itemization of the marijuana sales law indicates it contemplates the formation and operation of medicinal marijuana cooperatives that would receive reimbursement for marijuana."

In 2005, the State Board of Equalization (BOE) adopted a policy of taxing the sale of medical marijuana at the hundreds of dispensaries across California. As part of a study on sales tax, ASA estimated that in 2007 medical marijuana dispensaries provided at least $100 million in annual tax revenue to the state budget. Currently, at least 40 California cities and counties have adopted ordinances regulating dispensaries, several of which have included reference to the "retail sale" of medical marijuana.

Further information:
Latest proposed ordinance for medical marijuana collectives in the City of Los Angeles: http://clkrep.lacity.org/onlinedocs/2008/08-0923_rpt_atty_11-30-09.pdf
Landmark decision on selling medical marijuana, People v. Urziceanu: http://AmericansForSafeAccess.org/downloads/People_v_Urziceanu.PDF

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