Medical marijuana advocates said Wednesday they have gathered enough signatures to place a referendum before voters that would halt the forced closure of dispensaries next week and overturn a ban on new pot clinics in Los Angeles.
More than 50,000 signatures were collected during the past several weeks, after the City Council approved an ordinance that would shutter hundreds of pot shops by Sept. 6.
The city clerk’s office has 15 calendar days to verify the signatures as those of registered voters. If the measure qualifies for the ballot next year, the ban would be immediately suspended. The City Council also could rescind the ordinance.
“Because of the ban’s questionable future, the city ought to reconsider its tough stance on enforcing the ban,” said Don Duncan, California’s director for Americans for Safe Access, the country’s largest medical marijuana advocacy group.
The drive to eliminate the ban is the latest offensive by pot advocates to keep clinics open.
The city has fumbled with its medical marijuana laws for years, trying to provide safe and affordable access to the drug for legitimate patients while addressing worries by neighborhood groups that streets were being overrun by dispensaries and pot users.
The city ordinance outlaws the sale of the drug in stores and limits the growing or sharing of the drug to three people. City officials have been notifying dispensary owners that they must shut down or be subjected to court action and a $2,500 fine for every day they remain open past the deadline.
City officials previously ordered the closure of pot shops, but the process failed amid lawsuits and conflicting rulings by appellate courts.
The Committee to Protect Patients and Neighborhoods collected signatures during the past month, saying they needed at least 27,425 names of qualified voters to get the issue on the ballot.
Advocates also are pinning their hopes on a lawsuit filed by a medical marijuana trade association, arguing the city ordinance violates state law guaranteeing legal access to marijuana for medical reasons.
Even if dispensaries remain open, the operations still could face action by the federal government, which has been ordering stores to close around the state for the past 10 months. Federal prosecutors recently filed three lawsuits and sent warning letters to more than 60 clinics in Anaheim and La Habra.
Marijuana remains illegal under federal law.