A proposed law to ban all medical marijuana dispensaries, but allow primary caregivers to dispense the drug and licensed patients to grow their own, cleared one hurdle today.
The City Council Public Safety Committee forwarded a draft ordinance prepared by City Attorney Carmen Trutanich’s office to the full City Council.
The proposal also will make a stop at the Planning Commission to receive its recommendations.
“There are people in the City of Los Angeles that truly need marijuana as a medicine, not to get high, not to make money, but to get well,” City Attorney Carmen Trutanich told the committee.
The ordinance is a major reversal for the city, which has tried since 2007 to allow and regulate pot shops.
That effort led to a boom in the number of dispensaries, estimated at above 800 at its peak, and more than 60 lawsuits against the city.
Officials say a court ruling last October against the City of Long Beach’s medical marijuana ordinance forced the city’s hand.
The ruling said cities could not “affirmatively” authorize marijuana dispensaries because to do so would violate the federal Controlled Substances Act, which considers marijuana illegal.
The city’s ordinance had OK’d the dispensaries, but sought to reduce the number to below 100.
Assistant City Attorney Jane Usher told the committee the ruling made the city’s position “very troubling.”
“You have an ordinance on the books concerning medical marijuana, and your ordinance is not implementable,” Usher said. “You do not have a good hand.”
The city has spent millions of dollars over the past two years fighting lawsuits against the ordinance, appearing weekly and sometimes daily in court, Usher told the committee.
She urged the council to move swiftly to pass the new ordinance, which she described as a “gentle ban.” It would be the first law of its kind in the state to ban marijuana businesses but also make exceptions for legal uses and transactions, she said.
“The essence of those exceptions is to allow seriously ill patients, together with their primary caregivers, to engage in cultivation,” Usher said.
Sarah Armstrong, who runs Nature’s Natural Cooperative Care in Reseda and works with the Greater Los Angeles Collective Alliance, took issue with the concept of a gentle ban. “It is a lie.
There is no such thing as a gentle ban,” Armstrong said. “Saying that somehow caregivers are going to take over this responsibility is disingenuous in the extreme.”
Primary caregivers do not have enough time or energy to grow marijuana, she said.
Armstrong called for the council to take more time to fix the existing ordinance to effectively weed out “rogue” dispensaries that don’t want to pay taxes and get legitimate business licenses. “We’re tired of being tarred with the same brush,” Armstrong said.
Meanwhile, California Attorney General Kamala Harris sent a letter to the Democratic leadership in the state Legislature, urging lawmakers to fix the Compassionate Use Act, the law the first legalized medical marijuana in the state. She said the law has created a legal grey area for cities and counties.
She urged legislators to fix the law, in part by defining the terms “collective” and “dispensary,” clarifying what it means to be a nonprofit distributor of marijuana and providing a way to monitor the health and safety of edible marijuana products.
Councilman Jose Huizar, who drafted one of several motions calling for the ban, said he did so reluctantly.
“I personally believe in the use of and the value of medical marijuana for patients who actually need it,” Huizar said. “But if we are put in a situation like we are today, where we have no tools at our disposal to control for the ill-effects of medical marijuana dispensaries on local communities, we have no other option but to repeal our ordinance, ban dispensaries and wait to see what happens in the California Supreme Court case.”
The court is expected to announce by Feb. 8 whether it will hear an appeal of the Pack case.