Crime & Justice

Only 41 Los Angeles medical marijuana dispensaries eligible to stay open

Jars full of medical marijuana are seen at Sunset Junction medical marijuana dispensary on May 11, 2010 in Los Angeles, California.
Jars full of medical marijuana are seen at Sunset Junction medical marijuana dispensary on May 11, 2010 in Los Angeles, California.
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Only 41 medical marijuana dispensaries in Los Angeles are eligible to stay in business under the city's restrictive ordinance, a number so low that the city will suspend the winnowing process and ask a judge to rule that it is legal, it was reported today.

After a two-month review of dispensary records, the city clerk determined that three-quarters of the 169 dispensaries that applied to remain open did not meet the requirements in the ordinance, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Some of the ineligible dispensaries are among the most reputable in the city, The Times reported.
"It was a surprise," said Jane Usher, a special assistant city attorney who worked closely with the City Council to draft the complex medical marijuana law and is defending it in court.

Yamileth Bolanos, who runs PureLife Alternative Wellness Center and is one of the most politically active operators, found out her dispensary was ineligible when the city clerk posted the list on its website. "I'm not going to take this lying down," she said. "This is ridiculous. They have screwed up one thing after another."

Los Angeles experienced a dizzying increase in the number of dispensaries when it failed to enforce a pot-shop moratorium put in place in 2007. Hundreds of dispensaries opened with no city oversight, a trend that angered activists in many neighborhoods.

The city's ordinance, which took effect June 7, aimed to shut down an estimated 400 dispensaries. It made an exception for 182 that had registered with the city under the moratorium.

But in order to stay open, those dispensaries were required to show that the owners and managers had not changed; that they had no major criminal records; and that the store was at its original location or had moved just once after being threatened by federal narcotics officials.

Dispensaries deemed eligible would still have to complete a series of steps to gain final approval.

Rather than move ahead with a selection process that would clearly trigger a spate of new lawsuits by disqualified dispensaries, the city attorney's office plans to sue the ineligible outlets first and ask a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge to determine that the city's process was appropriate.

Los Angeles is already tangling with about 85 dispensaries that have filed almost 30 lawsuits challenging the procedure the City Council adopted Jan. 26 to limit the number of dispensaries. Most of the dispensaries that have sued are among those that were ordered to close in June.

Judge Anthony J. Mohr is presiding over all lawsuits that have been filed, and already has held numerous hearings. He has set a Sept. 21 hearing on constitutional issues. The city attorney's office intends to file a lawsuit soon, and it is unclear how quickly Mohr might act on it.

Councilman Ed Reyes, who oversaw the drafting of the ordinance, stood behind it on Wednesday, saying that the multiplying lawsuits were inevitable in a litigious society. Under the ordinance, if the number of medical marijuana dispensaries drops below 70, then additional dispensaries would be chosen in a lottery and the total would be capped at 70.