L.A. Medical Marijuana Scene in Tumult
By Brian Doherty
October 22, 2009 8:57 AM
The medical marijuana scene in Los Angeles gets more uncertain, with judges knocking down the existing moratorium, the city attorney threatening a severe crackdown, and the city council ready to act on a new wave of restrictions.
First on the court action, from the L.A. Times account:
A Superior Court judge concluded today that Los Angeles’ moratorium on new medical marijuana dispensaries is invalid and granted a preliminary injunction against enforcement of the ban sought by a dispensary that had sued the city.
Judge James C. Chalfant determined that the city failed to follow state law when it extended its initial moratorium. "The city cannot rely on an expired ordinance," he said.
Green Oasis and a number of other medical marijuana collectives sued the city last month, challenging its efforts to control the dispensaries. The lawsuit argued that the City Council violated state law when it extended the ban until mid-March and that it is unconstitutionally vague.
Although the injunction applies only to Green Oasis, the judge’s ruling calls into question the city’s power to enforce the moratorium against hundreds of dispensaries that have opened in the last two years. The ruling could inspire other dispensaries to join the lawsuit or file similar actions.
Of course, many city politicians are annoyed that the moratorium in issue in that court decision hasn’t really worked to stop new medical dispensaries from going into business in L.A. And that’s why City Attorney Trutanich has proposed a new set of medical pot regulations for L.A., as noted in this Daily News story:
A day after a judge invalidated the city’s ban on new medical marijuana collectives, City Attorney Carmen Trutanich released a new ordinance that would better spell out how the facilities can operate and create safety standards for their product. Trutanich also vowed to continue a crackdown on illegal operators of dispensaries.
"If you are illegally selling marijuana or supplying it in the city of Los Angeles, you should get out of business," Trutanich warned. "I don’t need a new ordinance to go after you."
Trutanich said the [Superior Court] decision will not affect enforcement of existing city laws dealing with the clinics, but City Council members said they felt a need to get a new ordinance on the books quickly. The moratorium overturned by the judge had been intended as a temporary measure while city officials spent two years debating and drafting a permanent ordinance.
The new draft ordinance, the fourth considered by the City Council since 2008, is the toughest version brought before the body and seeks to strictly control the dispensaries.Under the measure, the shops will be open only from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., will be allowed to have only five pounds of marijuana on hand and no more than 100 plants. Also, all the marijuana provided must have been grown by the collective.
LAist reproduces Trutanich’s proposed ordinance, and his attempts to get neighborhood councils behind him on the crackdown effort.
The L.A. Times highlights the severity of the ordinance, which the City Council might act on any day now:
Under the latest proposal, most dispensaries would be required to close immediately and could not apply to reopen for six months. The 186 dispensaries that registered with the city when it passed its moratorium in 2007 would be allowed to remain open for six months, but then would have to meet the ordinance’s requirements.
The ordinance could effectively outlaw most dispensaries in the city by prohibiting sales of medical marijuana. Both City Atty. Carmen Trutanich and Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley maintain that state law does not allow over-the-counter sales, though they say collectives owned by the members are allowed to recoup their expenses. Dispensary operators say the sales, usually in 1/8 -ounce increments, are meant to cover their operating costs.
The L.A. Weekly reports on who is taking which side in the local debate over pot dispensaries.
An L.A. Times chart of operating medical pot dispensaries in the L.A. area. And an L.A. Times report on a poll showing that most voters don’t want to see the dispensaries prosecuted or forced to close.
On the national front, the Obama administration has sworn it won’t target federal enforcement efforts on medical users–but that might not mean a thing when it comes to what the federal DEA has always been doing, which is targeting dispensaries of the stuff. See my Reason magazine colleague Jacob Sullum for a skeptical take on the administration announcement.