Pressure mounts on LA pot shops, City Council, ahead of Tuesday vote

Michael Oliveri, who has muscular dystrophy, said he uses medical marijuana to increase his appetite
Michael Oliveri, who has muscular dystrophy, said he uses medical marijuana to increase his appetite
Frank Stoltz/KPCC

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Medical marijuana patients in wheelchairs and on crutches gathered outside Los Angeles City Hall Monday to voice their opposition to a proposed ban on pot shops. The City Council will consider the ban on Tuesday.

“It’s the only medicine that allows me to eat,” said Michael Oliveri, who suffers from muscular dystrophy.
Oliveri is 6 feet, 2 inches, and weighs less than 100 pounds. He inhaled marijuana from a slender, cigarette-size vaporizer as he spoke.

Oliveri, 28, said he knows that some of the estimated 800 medical marijuana dispensaries in the city are operating illegally. “I even have friends that own some of them and I tell them ‘you’re the problem,’” he said of pot shops that sell to minors or people without doctor recommendations. “They’re just trying to make money.”

But Oliveri and dozens of other medical marijuana patients said they rely on dispensaries to provide pot because they are unable to grow their own.

Since 2007, Los Angeles has attempted to regulate medical marijuana. Pot shop owners have sued, arguing the 1996 voter approved Compassionate Use Act and subsequent state legislation allows them to create collectives that distribute marijuana.

Under the 1996 law, only primary caregivers can provide marijuana to patients. It bans the sale of the drug for profit. Pot shops owners have gotten around those restrictions by designating themselves as primary caregivers and collecting “donations.”

Courts have issued conflicting rulings on pot shops. California’s Fourth District Court of Appeal recently struck down an outright ban in Los Angeles County. Another court has ruled that federal laws prohibit any use or distribution of marijuana. The California Supreme Court is expected to issue a definitive ruling next year.

Under the latest proposed ban in Los Angeles, the city would shut down all pot shops. It would allow people to grow their own, or form a collective of no more than three people to grow and distribute marijuana among themselves.

Councilmen Jose Huizar, the ban’s chief backer, calls it a “gentle ban.” Supporters of the plan said on Monday that new medical marijuana regulations are long overdue.

“It’s a big problem and we’re sick of it,” said Eric Moore, Vice President and Chair of the East Hollywood Neighborhood Council. “We’re sick and tired of constantly coming to City Hall and talking about this [...] and having everybody tell us there is nothing we can do about it.”

Moore said loitering and smoking pot outside marijuana dispensaries remains a big problem. Father John Moretta of the Resurrection Parish in East Los Angeles said he witnessed one pot shop re-open the day after police shut it down.

“It’s the old West. This is pure lawlessness,” he said.

Olivari countered that he and other medical marijuana users should not be punished with a ban on pot shops.

“The cops are really the ones to blame because they got so lax on it,” he said. “They try to make it our fault.”

Olivari said he supports a proposal by Councilman Paul Koretz to limit the number of pot shops to around 100 in the city.

The United Food and Commercial Workers union is among the groups lobbying against the pot shop ban. It organized Monday's rally opposing it. The labor union is seeking to organize the thousands of people employed by pot shops around the city.