LA City Council repeals pot shop ban, but what's changed?

The ban against medical marijuana dispensaries was repealed Tuesday by the L.A. City Council.
The ban against medical marijuana dispensaries was repealed Tuesday by the L.A. City Council.
Bear Guerra/KPCC

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The Los Angeles City Council Tuesday voted to repeal its ban on medical marijuana dispensaries. It approved the ban just two months ago.

The council backed down after marijuana activists submitted nearly 50,000 signatures opposing the law. That petition forced the council to either place the ban before voters or repeal it outright.

“The ban would have been repealed at the ballot box,” said Councilman Paul Koretz, who supports keeping at least 100 medical marijuana clinics open. An estimated 800 operate in the city now.

The vote was 11-2. Councilmen Joe Buscaino and Jose Huizar voted to leave it up to voters — even though Huizar said pot shop owners probably would have prevailed in a political fight.

“They are making hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars through these for-profit dispensaries,” Huizar said. “[A campaign] would have been well-financed.”

Dispensaries are supposed to operate as non-profit collectives, but law enforcement officials believe many are being run as commercial businesses.

Councilman Mitch Englander, who also supports the ban, sought to put a positive spin on the council’s repeal: “I claim victory today. This is another step forward in having some clarity.” (Story continues below the poll.)

Englander was one of the few to claim clarity. With the repeal of the ban, L.A. is left with no ordinance that sanctions or prohibits medical marijuana clinics.

Englander said the city could use existing zoning laws to close pot shops. He said he asked the LAPD to do just that in his Western San Fernando Valley district, and that 85 shops have been closed either through raids or letters from the City Attorney. He said the council will consider yet another new law regulating pot shops in the coming months, and will also ask the state to clarify laws allowing the medicinal use of marijuana.

The federal government has begun targeting pot shops in Eagle Rock and downtown L.A. Last week, it issued 69 warning letters and filed three lawsuits against property owners. Federal law prohibits the use of marijuana under any circumstances.

Medical marijuana activists, who’ve repeatedly sued the city to keep pot shops open, hailed the City Council’s decision.

“The ban was not feasible," said Oliver Summers of the Greater Los Angeles Collective Alliance. "It eliminates safe access to marijuana.”

So what’s changed on the pot shop landscape of L.A., where almost anyone can obtain a prescription for marijuana for a select group of doctors?

“Not necessarily anything,” Koretz said. “This is a complicated issue.”

One of the most compelling voices during the debate came from Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who has cancer. He uses marijuana to help with pain and appetite.

Gaunt, his voice cracking, the Venice councilman urged his colleagues to consider the people who are sick.

“We’ve got to repeal the ban,” Rosendahl said. “Where does anybody go — even a councilman — to get his medical marijuana.”