A judge has ordered Los Angeles not to enforce key sections of its controversial medical marijuana ordinance, issuing a preliminary injunction that once again leaves the city with limited ability to control dispensaries and raises the possibility that new ones could open.
The decision comes almost six months after the City Council adopted the law, which opponents said was riddled with flaws. Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Anthony J. Mohr, in a decision released Friday, agreed with most of the criticisms raised by the dispensaries.
In his ruling, Mohr acknowledged "there is a good chance that a large number of collectives could open once this injunction takes effect."
Mohr enjoined a crucial provision of the ordinance that outlaws all dispensaries except those that registered with the city in 2007 after the City Council adopted a moratorium on new stores. He concluded it is invalid because the moratorium was improperly extended and therefore had expired before the registration deadline for dispensaries.
The latest poll on California's Proposition 19, which would legalize adult marijuana recreational marijuana use and allow local governments to regulate and tax sales, shows the ballot initiative ahead with 52 percent supporting it and 41 percent against it.
The push to legalize marijuana in California is seeing increased public support.
A field poll shows likely voters support Proposition 19 by a 49-to-42 percent margin. In July Prop 19 trailed by four points.
The new field poll is similar to an exclusive Action News Poll conducted by SurveyUSA this month. It showed 47-percent of likely voters said they would vote to legalize marijuana, while 43-percent were opposed.
The 700,000-member Service Employees International Union's endorsement could boost the Proposition 19 campaign, which has been relying on grass-roots outreach.
The state council of the Service Employees International Union, the largest labor union in California, has endorsed Proposition 19, the initiative on the November ballot that seeks to legalize marijuana.
The endorsement, announced Tuesday, could boost the campaign, which has not been able to raise enough money for television advertisements and is relying on grass-roots outreach.
The SEIU, which says it has more than 700,000 members in California, is a significant political force in state politics, although it is not clear how much money or muscle it will put toward passage of the measure.
When the Los Angeles City Council adopted its medical marijuana ordinance, it aimed to rout unscrupulous dispensary operators whose unruly customers irritated residents and operators who opened up willy-nilly across the city, ignoring a ban on new stores.
But the ordinance has snared operators who appear to have tried hard to adhere to state law and the city's rules. Among them are some of the most politically active operators whose dispensaries are considered model operations. Last week, the city sued these dispensaries and dozens of others and asked a judge to rule that they could be shut down.
Medical marijuana advocates are gathering signatures for a voter referendum to block a recently passed Los Angeles law that will shutter hundreds of pot shops.
The effort is designed to overturn the city's medical marijuana dispensary ordinance before it takes effect in May.
Monday is the deadline to turn in 27,425 signatures and organizer Dan Halbert says "it's going to be close."
A lawsuit filed Tuesday challenges Los Angeles' crackdown on medical marijuana dispensaries, claiming it would force nearly all of them to close.
The suit by the nation's largest medical marijuana advocacy group accuses the city of violating the state constitutional rights of pot clinic operators and claims the city ordinance "deprives the seriously ill of the medicine promised them by the electorate and the Legislature of California."
It wants a judge to permanently prevent the new law from being enforced and to award damages.
City attorney's spokesman Frank Mateljan had no immediate comment.
California voters passed a law in 1996 that legalized marijuana use for medical reasons, but it didn't say anything about distribution. So some cities have permitted dispensaries to flourish while others, such as Costa Mesa and Fresno, have effectively banned them and arrested owners.
Los Angeles has been struggling for years with the issue of controlling dispensaries. The ordinance that the mayor signed last month caps the number of dispensaries in the city at 70.
City officials have estimated there could be as many as 1,000 outlets in the city and that some sell pot as a business. Last month, the city filed lawsuits and eviction notices against 21 dispensaries and arrested one owner.
By at least one estimate, California's largest cash crop is not milk, cheese, or oranges, it's marijuana. Some advocates say legalizing pot — and taxing it — could be a way out of the state's financial woes, and they recently secured enough signatures for a ballot initiative to do just that. But how much revenue a legal pot industry generates would depend on how prices are set.
And it isnt just Los Angeles having budget trouble, the whole state is in the throes of a full-blown fiscal crisis. But it looks like Californians may get the chance to vote on a novel way to help balance the books. The proposal? Legalized pot, then tax it. So, how much money would that raise? Well, that depends on complicated economic questions like what would a joint sell for on the open market?
Heres NPRs David Kestenbaum with our Planet Money team.
DAVID KESTENBAUM: Right now, the price of marijuana varies a lot. The government actually studies these things. Researchers go into holding cells or if people have been arrested and asked questions like what do you pay for marijuana?
The Los Angeles City Council voted Tuesday to close roughly 800 medical marijuana dispensaries in the city by passing the first reading of an ordinance which would also require 75% of remaining dispensaries to relocate. The vote, to be confirmed in a second reading of the ordinance next Tuesday, will radically change the landscape of medical marijuana distribution in Los Angeles, which has been largely unregulated since dispensaries were first authorized by state law in 1996.
If the ordinance takes effect later this spring, medical marijuana dispensaries will have to find locations more than 1000 feet from various 'sensitive uses' -- including churches, public parks, schools, rehab centers, and other dispensaries. They will also be required to grow all their cannabis on-site, test it for pesticides, provide written notice of their existence to all neighbors within 1000 feet, maintain 24-hour complaint hotlines, hire unarmed security guards to patrol a two-block radius, keep 90 days of security footage and fulfill a number of other registration requirements with the city.
The Los Angeles City Council delayed final approval of regulations for medical cannabis collectives until Tuesday. Councilmembers want more time to study a report by the Planning Department and new ordinance language provided by the City Attorney less than one hour before this morning’s meeting. The debate about the regulations seems to be winding up, with only a few contentious issues left to resolve – including where collectives can locate and how many will be allowed.
More than one hundred Angelinos showed up for today’s Special Meeting, more than half of whom spoke in segments strictly limited to one minute each by acting President Dennis Zine. The crowd was stunned to hear the Executive Director of Beverly Hills NORML, Cheryl Shuman, tell the Council that she was denied a liver transplant because of her medical cannabis use. “I am going to die because of this,” she told the Council.
The 51-page report from the Planning Department showed the acreage available for collectives under differing regulatory schemes. In most cases, requiring buffer zones between a laundry list of sensitive uses and residential uses would eliminate most opportunities. For example, the report shows that requiring collectives to more than 500 feet from sensitive uses and any property used as a residence would mean that only four of the 137 collectives registered before the city’s moratorium could remain open.
Yamileth Bolanos helps a customer pick out a strain of medical cannabis at the PureLife Alternative Wellness Center in Los Angeles. Bolanos and other collective operators argue state law allows sales. But, she admits, "It's like the Bible, everybody reads it the way they want to." Credit: Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times / December 24, 2009
Prosecutors in Los Angeles insist that collectives cannot sell medical marijuana at their stores and can provide it only to members who actively cultivate it together. Dispensary operators, on the other hand, argue that it is absurd to expect them to run Soviet-style collective farms and to rule out cash payments for pot.
When the Los Angeles City Council finishes its marijuana ordinance, which may finally happen this month, it is likely to inflame this increasingly contentious debate over how the drug can be distributed.
The conflict hinges on the state's 2003 medical marijuana law and almost entirely on a single sentence.
"The law's screwed up in a lot of ways. There's big gaping holes," said Yamileth Bolanos, who runs PureLife Alternative Wellness Center and is one of the city's most politically involved operators. "It's very confusing for everyone, even the prosecution and law enforcement. It's like the Bible, everybody reads it the way they want to."