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Medical marijuana clinics banned by LA City Council (updated)

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Nonprofit storefronts that sell medical marijuana will be banned in the city of Los Angeles under a proposal approved Tuesday.

The Los Angeles City Council voted 14-0 to prohibit the sale of medical cannabis in retail establishments. However, exemptions will allow patients to continue growing marijuana for their own use, and primary caregivers may continue to distribute the drug.

The vote, which came after hours of public testimony and debate, drew sharp criticism from patients who use medical marijuana to tame the side effects of their illnesses. Some public speakers shouted at council members and then the police officers who took to the council chamber after the vote.

Earlier in the day, the council heard from patients and advocates of medical marijuana. 

“A ban on medical cannabis collectives and cooperatives is an attack on patients. They need this. It can work in other cities,” said Don Duncan, the California director of Americans for Safe Access. “You guys have to get it together and pass regulations that protect safe access for legitimate patients for legal operations.”

The original vote against the ban was 13-1, with Councilman Paul Koretz dissenting. However, the councilman later flipped his vote so the ordinance could get to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's desk sooner. The ban will take effect in about 40 days. Dispensary owners who do not close their businesses could face fines or misdemeanors, according to the City Attorney’s Office.  

A total of 762 clinics have registered with the city under Measure M, which imposed a gross receipts tax. An additional 100 to 200 dispensaries are in operation, said Jane Usher of the City Attorney’s Office.

In addition to the ban, the city council voted 9-5 to look at how 182 clinics that registered with the city prior to 2007 could one day be resurrected.

In a letter to the council, police Chief Charlie Beck wrote that the combination of “narcotics and large sums of money found at medical marijuana dispensaries present an increased risk” to crime.

“The Los Angeles Police Department supports Compassionate Care Act. We support the law. We have no issue with the medical use of marijuana as prescribed under state law,” Beck said, appearing before the city council. 

“What we do have issue with is large for-profit businesses that operate outside of what we think is state law.”

In opposing the ban, Koretz said he knew hundreds of people who died of AIDS but found strength in medicinal cannabis.

“[A]nd then seeing some of those folks survive because they were able to avoid the wasting by taking medical marijuana, they were able to tolerate the pain and then when the 30 and 40-pill cocktails with deadly side effects occurred, they were able to tolerate the side effects and the nausea,” Koretz said.

Councilman Jose Huizar authored the proposal to ban clinics.

“The best course of action is to ban dispensaries, allow patients to have access under state law,” Huizar said. “Let’s wait to see what the state Supreme Court decides and then we will be in a much better position to draft an ordinance that makes sense.”

This post has been updated.

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