LA City Council passes rule forcing hundreds of medical marijuana dispensaries to close

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A pedestrian walks past a marijuana leaf neon sign advertising a medical marijuana provider along a street in the Sherman Oaks section of Los Angeles, Calif. on Tuesday Jan. 26, 2010. Tuesday the LA City Council approved an ordinance that will close hundreds of clinics while those that remain said they would be banished to industrial areas forcing their clients to travel longer distances.

The Los Angeles City Council Tuesday approved a sweeping new law that will force hundreds of medical marijuana dispensaries to close.

The 9-3 vote represented the culmination of nearly three years of deliberations.

The ordinance sets a cap of 70 dispensaries in Los Angeles but temporarily allows more than double that number to stay open – specifically, the 187 dispensaries that registered with the city before Nov. 13, 2007 – provided they adhere to certain restrictions.

If any of the 187 dispensaries closes or goes out of business, it will not be replaced until the overall number is reduced to 70.

Don Duncan is California director of Americans for Safe Access, a group that lobbies for medical marijuana patients and pot shops. He spoke with KPCC's Frank Stoltze after the Los Angeles City Council voted to close most marijuana dispensaries in the city, and place sweeping restrictions on those that remain.
The ordinance requires dispensaries be at least 1,000 feet away from so-called "sensitive use" sites, namely schools, public parks, public libraries, religious institutions, licensed child care facilities, youth centers, rehab centers, and other dispensaries.

Instead of mandating a similar buffer between dispensaries and homes, the council agreed to merely bar dispensaries from being "on a lot abutting, across the street or alley from, or having a common corner with a residentially zoned lot or a lot improved with residential use."

To adhere to the 1996 Compassionate Use Act and 2003 Medical Marijuana Program Act, which prohibited the sale of medical marijuana, the ordinance states that "no collective shall operate for profit."

Rather, it allows "cash and in-kind contributions, reimbursements and reasonable compensation provided by members toward the collective's actual expenses for the growth, cultivation and provision of medical marijuana ... in strict compliance with state law."

To make sure collectives are not operating for profit, an independent certified public accountant would have to audit the collectives every year and submit the findings to the city controller. Building and Safety inspectors and police officers would have to examine the location.

However, authorities cannot look into patients' records without a search warrant, subpoena or court order.

The ordinance requires collectives to be open between 10 a.m. and 8 p.m. and enforce stringent security measures – including bars on their windows, closed-circuit cameras, burglar alarms, and security guards patrolling a two-block radius around the location.

As an additional precaution, collectives cannot store more than $200 in cash overnight and would have to make twice-daily bank drops.

The council eliminated restrictions on how much medical marijuana can be stored at a dispensary, stating only that operators must cultivate the medical marijuana "in strict accordance with state law."

Patients can be a member of only one dispensary, though they may obtain medical marijuana from another dispensary in case of a medical emergency.

An operator can run only one dispensary in the city, and should not have been convicted of a felony or a crime of moral turpitude within the last 10 years. They also cannot be on parole or probation for the sale or distribution of a controlled substance.

Independent and certified laboratories must test the medical marijuana regularly for pesticides and other contaminants. Operators may cultivate the medical marijuana on-site, provided the activity is not visible from the exterior of the building and measures are taken to prevent unauthorized entry.

Since Sept. 14, 2007, Los Angeles has had a temporary ordinance that banned dispensaries other than those which registered with the city before Nov. 13, 2007.

However, it had a loophole that enabled operators to open about 800 dispensaries across Los Angeles.

KPCC's Frank Stoltze contributed to this story.

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