LA City Council passes final rule for pot clinic ordinance

Neon sign at a medical marijuana clinic
Neon sign at a medical marijuana clinic
Caveman 92223 via Flickr

The Los Angeles City Council today finalized a medical marijuana ordinance that will enable authorities to start closing hundreds of illegal pot shops starting in early June.

"I am pleased that this final action will give us the opportunity to begin implementing a medical marijuana ordinance in the city of Los Angeles that we believe is both prudent and fair," said Councilman Ed Reyes, chairman of the committee which oversaw the drafting of the ordinance.

The council established the regulatory fees for the 187 or fewer medical marijuana dispensaries that will be allowed to keep operating, and added that component to the overarching ordinance approved in February.

Councilman Jose Huizar said Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is expected to sign the regulations into law on April 27. The ordinance will then be published on March 4 and take effect on June 4.

"I think it's the right step for the citizens of Los Angeles to have the clock start ticking as to when we're going to implement the ordinance,'' Huizar said. "We're trying to separate those facilities (that) truly want to provide medical marijuana to those who need it versus those who are in this just to make hundreds of thousands of dollars, and do not care about neighborhoods.''

Between the time the mayor signs the ordinance and the date it takes effect, operators of pot shops that opened in spite of a council-imposed moratorium in 2007 will be sent cease-and-desist letters and ordered to shut down.

"The Los Angeles Police Department and our city attorney is focused on this,'' Huizar said. "They're going to go after those who are not complying.''

By some estimates, as many as 1,000 pot shops are operating in and around Los Angeles.

"Because the city has not effectively curbed the proliferation of outlaw medical marijuana clinics, we now have more clinics than we have Starbucks,'' Councilman Paul Krekorian said.

Under the ordinance, if any of the 187 dispensaries opened prior to the moratorium goes out of business, a new one would not be allowed to replace it until the overall number is reduced to 70.

Deputy City Attorney Ken Fong said once the ordinance takes effect, operators of those dispensaries will have to pay registration fees of $1,595 each, undergo background checks and have their facilities checked by building inspectors.

The ordinance requires dispensaries to be at least 1,000 feet away from schools, public parks, public libraries and religious institutions, as well as each other.

It also bars 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.''

If two dispensaries are currently within 1,000 feet of each other, the city clerk will establish a priority list to determine which one can stay in its current location, and which one must move.

Huizar said all dispensaries are expected to be in full compliance with the law by December.

Medical marijuana advocates plan to challenge the ordinance in court on the grounds that it will effectively zone dispensaries out of existence.

`"While it's a historic milestone that we've come this far, the ordinance as it's adopted is problematic in many ways,'' said Don Duncan of Americans for Safe Access.

"What I want to encourage you to do is keep working,'' he told the council. "With a few small changes, you can make your existing ordinance a really good one. Right now, it sort of lumps the good guys and the bad guys together and confuses the issue. We can do better than that.''

Kris Hermes, also with Americans for Safe Access, said earlier that lawyers for the group would seek a temporary restraining order to prevent the ordinance from taking effect.

Huizar said the ordinance may not be perfect, but it's the first step toward asserting control over what he called a "a wild, wild west situation.''

"What we want to do is provide safe access and balance that with safe neighborhoods,'' he said. "If we see in practical terms that these dispensaries can't find locations, that we're still disrupting neighborhoods, that things need to get adjustment, we will (amend the ordinance).''