Los Angeles City Council Passes Final Medical Marijuana Dispensary Ordinance

Los Angeles, CA -- The Los Angeles City Council voted 9-1 today to approve final amendments to a local medical marijuana dispensary ordinance it passed earlier this year. Although Mayor Villaraigosa signed the dispensary ordinance into law on February 3rd, the city was required to adopt a supplemental permit fee ordinance before the law could take effect. Conspicuously deleted from the final ordinance was a controversial provision that caused the medical marijuana advocacy organization Americans for Safe Access (ASA) to file a lawsuit against the city. The ordinance previously required dispensary operators to find a new location within 7 days after the law took effect, which ASA argued was a violation of due process. Villaraigosa has 10 days to sign the final amended ordinance, but it won't become effective until 30 days after being signed.

"We have clearly won our legal challenge and forced the city to improve its medical marijuana dispensary ordinance," said ASA Chief Counsel Joe Elford, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of Venice Beach Care Center and PureLife Alternative Wellness Center, two dispensaries that have operated in Los Angeles since before the city's moratorium. "However, the legal battle is far from over." Elford further asserted that, "The buffer zones and other location restrictions are so onerous and complicated that they throw into question whether dispensaries will be able to comply with the ordinance, and whether the city will be able to successfully implement the law."

In order to comply with the ordinance, dispensaries must be located at least 1,000 feet from schools, parks, libraries, churches and other so-called "sensitive uses." Even more problematic is a provision prohibiting dispensaries from locating next to or across the street from residential property, which excludes almost all of the city's commercial zones. Despite official requests of the Planning Department to produce maps that would indicate all of the available areas in the city a dispensary can be located, city staff was never able to satisfy those requests.

This due process victory by ASA is not its first in pushing the city toward more functional regulations. In November, when the Council was considering outlawing the sale of medical marijuana, ASA threatened to file suit. The city avoided costly litigation by reaching a compromise on the issue of sales, however recent actions by the City Attorney's office throws that compromise into question. After aggressive law enforcement raids in February, the City Attorney filed nuisance abatement actions against two dispensaries, Organica and Holistic Caregivers, accusing them of engaging in illegal sales of medical marijuana. ASA is currently considering its legal options after a Los Angeles Superior Court judge on Tuesday granted the city's motion for preliminary injunction.

"This amended ordinance now gives dispensaries up to 6 months to find somewhere in the city to locate," said Elford. "The city ought to think twice about conducting any further raids before dispensaries have had a chance to comply with the new regulation." Advocates accuse the City Attorney and District Attorney of manufacturing fear around medical marijuana dispensaries. A recent study commissioned by Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck, comparing the number of crimes in 2009 at the city's banks and medical marijuana dispensaries, found that 71 robberies had occurred at the more than 350 banks in the city, compared to 47 robberies at the more than 500 medical marijuana facilities. Chief Beck observed that, "banks are more likely to get robbed than medical marijuana dispensaries," and that the claim that dispensaries attract crime "doesn't really bear out."

Further information:
Amendments to L.A. medical marijuana dispensary ordinance: http://clkrep.lacity.org/onlinedocs/2008/08-0923-S5_RPT_ATTY_03-18-10.pdf
L.A. medical marijuana dispensary ordinance without amendment: http://clkrep.lacity.org/onlinedocs/2008/08-0923_ord_181069.pdf
Lawsuit filed by Americans for Safe Access against the City of Los Angeles: http://AmericansForSafeAccess.org/downloads/LA_Ordinance_Lawsuit.pdf

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