Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar Wednesday proposed an outright ban on medical marijuana dispensaries in the city.
Huizar’s proposal follows an October court decision that said Long Beach could not regulate pot shops because federal law prohibits the use of marijuana, as well as four years of efforts to develop regulations and controls that would allow the booming pot industry to exist in L.A. Long Beach is appealing the ruling, but Huizar worries it temporarily wipes out L.A.'s pot shop law limiting the number and where they can locate.
“My concern is that we will now once again see a proliferation of medical marijuana dispensaries throughout the city," Huizar said.
Huizar's motion would repeal city laws limiting the stores' number and locations until courts settle the issue. A draft copy of the motion asks the state Supreme Court to weigh in.
City officials say about 300 operate in L.A. now, even though regulations limit the number to 100. Officials say they have limited resources to regulate them, but plan to file legal action soon against about two dozen.
Michael Larsen of the Eagle Rock Neighborhood Council, whose neighborhood has seen a pot shop boom, says many of them are a joke. “For the past four years, Angelenos have had to put up with an Alice in Wonderland reality of outright drug dealers selling marijuana out of storefronts out of the guise of selling medicine to seriously ill Californians.”
Yamileth Bolanos of the Greater Los Angeles Collective Alliance, a pot shop consortium, said most operations are law abiding. She told the City Council shutting them all down would be irresponsible, “Because you’re turning over the distribution of medial marijuana to the cartels and the gangs of this city.”
Bolanos said there are about 200,000 people in Los Angeles with a doctor’s recommendation to use marijuana.
"Our neighborhoods continue to complain daily about the disruption and public safety issues presented by medical marijuana businesses operating in the city," Huizar wrote in his motion.
"Yet, implementation of the city's comprehensive medical marijuana regulatory effort, which balances public safety concerns with compassionate access for seriously ill patients, is thwarted by the Pack decision," he wrote in reference to the Long Beach case.
An October ruling by California's 2nd District Court of Appeal struck down attempts by Long Beach to require marijuana collectives to register with the city and pay fees. The court said cities may pass laws restricting the rights of pot shops to operate, but regulations affirming the right for dispensaries to exist violate federal law, under which marijuana is listed as an illegal drug banned for all purposes.
California voters approved the use of medical marijuana in 1996 by passing Proposition 215. However, despite its passage, an appeals court in Riverside ruled this month that cities have the right to ban dispensaries.
Huizar's motion calls for the city to reaffirm its support for Proposition 215 and medical patients' rights to grow and consume their own marijuana with a doctor's recommendation.
However, the ruling in the Pack v. City of Long Beach case forced the city's hand, said Rick Coca, Huizar's director of communications.
Huizar's motion attempts to balance the "needs of those who truly need medical marijuana for health reasons and protecting neighborhoods from the proliferation of medical marijuana dispensaries," Coca said. "Everything he did was to balance those two things. This was not an easy decision to make."
Coca said he expects strong opposition to the plan.
Don Duncan, a prominent medical marijuana activist, reacted to the motion by describing it as a "worst-case scenario." He added, "This is just going to force patients to buy medical cannabis from gangsters or other black-market sources."
Duncan, California director of Americans for Safe Access, which supports the use of medical marijuana, called the proposal "a disaster" for patients in Los Angeles.
"It's particularly disturbing because the City Council has been on the record saying that they're going to protect medical cannabis," Duncan said. "This seems like an about face and a betrayal."
The Council begins considering banning pot shops next week.
Huizar's effort is the second in two months to overturn the city's medical marijuana ordinance. City Council members Bernard Parks and Jan Perry last month proposed phasing out the ordinance.
As L.A. officials crack down on medical marijuana, there may be a move towards acceptance on the state level. Secretary of State Debra Bowen announced Tuesday that the proponents of a new initiative may begin collecting petition signatures for their measure on marijuana legalization.
The measure would decriminalize marijuana use, possession, cultivation, transportation, distribution or sale for adults age 19 and above. It would also create the California Cannabis Commission, a governing body that would regulate the commercial manufacturing of marijuana.
The measure must collect the signatures of 504,760 registered voters to qualify to be on the 2012 ballot.
This story has been updated.