Deadline arrives for LA medical marijuana ordinance referendum

Today is the deadline for a coalition of Los Angeles marijuana collectives seeking a referendum on the city's newly approved medical marijuana ordinance to turn in 27,425 valid signatures.

The signature-gathering campaign was coordinated by Dan Halbert, who runs Rainforest Collective on Venice Boulevard in Mar Vista.

"It's going to be close," he told the Los Angeles Times in remarks reported Sunday.

Halbert's dispensary, which opened last year, is one of hundreds that would have to close under the ordinance, according to The Times.

The ordinance, which probably will not take effect until May, caps the number at 70. But it also makes an exception to allow 128 dispensaries that registered in 2007, when the City Council adopted a moratorium, to stay open.

"They are just kind of arbitrarily drawing a line in the sand," Halbert told The Times, arguing that the competitive business environment would eventually reduce the number on its own, leaving only the best-run collectives.

An entrepreneur who owned an adventure travel business in Phoenix, Halbert moved to Los Angeles to open his dispensary after three trips to investigate the city's vibrant marijuana industry, The Times reported.

He said he never would have started the business if the city had been enforcing its ban. Now he has become a political activist trying to save his livelihood and torpedo an ordinance that the City Council has labored over for almost two years.

The last time a referendum qualified for the ballot, the City Council backed down on the targeted ordinance. In that instance, businesses sought to overturn a law that extended the city's living wage ordinance to workers at LAX-area hotels.

Rather than face a costly campaign to defend it, the City Council decided to rescind the law in 2007, negotiate with the hotels and adopt a compromise.

Halbert told The Times his aim is to persuade the City Council to drop its ordinance and follow the approach that San Diego has taken, appointing a broad-based task force to study the issue and make recommendations.