Medical marijuana operators worry about new LA law

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Dave Warden, a bud tender at Private Organic Therapy (P.O.T.), a non-profit co-operative medical marijuana dispensary, displays various types of marijuana available to patients on October 19, 2009 in Los Angeles, California.

The Los Angeles City Council voted 9-3 Tuesday in favor of a new law that seeks to regulate a proliferation of pot shops across the city. The ordinance will force most of about 1,000 shops to close, and will closely regulate those that remain.

As medical marijuana activists poured out of city council chambers after the vote, a beleaguered Oliver Summers wondered what would happen to his dispensary.

The council capped the number of pot shops at 70, but it’ll allow about 140 older shops to remain open. Summers’ is one of them.

But he’ll have to move because he’s within a thousand feet of a school. The new law doesn’t allow that.

“We’ve all been hunting down new spots and the few spots that we have found that are legal, the landlord has either raised the price like incredible and is going to go for the highest bidder first," said Summers.

Under the new law, pot shops can’t operate within a thousand feet of churches, parks and each other, and can’t locate across the street from homes or apartments.

City Councilman Ed Reyes acknowledged that the law sets tough restrictions, and that medical marijuana will be harder to obtain.

“It is kinda sad to see that people who are really sick are going to have a harder time getting their medication," said Reyes.

But Reyes voted in favor of the law.

“Well, because I thought that was the best way to go. Given two years of discussion and deliberation, we had to get to a vote.”

Reyes said the council could always go back and tweak the law.

Councilman Dennis Zine declared the law fine as it is, including its requirement that pot shops operate as non-profits audited by the city.

“This ordinance will bring in reasonableness, bring in proper controls to what is currently an out of control situation," said Zine.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said he supported the law and would sign it.

In the last couple of years, the number of marijuana dispensaries across the city has exploded. The growth accelerated after the Obama Administration announced an end to federal raids on pot shops last year.

Don Duncan with the medical marijuana group Americans for Safe Access agreed that L.A. needed to impose regulations. But he said the council went too far on issues like patient records.

“Our concern is that patient records, including records of transactions, are subject to inspection by the police department without a search warrant or without due process of law," said Duncan.

For months, Sara Armstrong’s followed the debate. She takes pot to relieve her arthritis pain.

Armstrong, 56, complained that the law allows patients to belong to only one marijuana dispensary.

“The problem is that patients have identified certain strains that work for sleep or work for pain relief or work well with wasting syndrome," she said. "Now, no dispensary in Los Angeles always has all the medication that everybody needs.”

Some medical marijuana activists vowed they’d sue to stop the new law.

City officials said that the law will take effect in about 45 days, and that they’ll seek voluntary compliance from pot shops first.

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