The Los Angeles City Council on Tuesday finalized the language of its ordinance regulating medical marijuana dispensaries in the city. The law will result in the closing of most of the city’s currently operating collectives and do much to insure that the criminal element stays out of the medical marijuana business, thus meeting the concerns of many Angelenos but causing new ones for patients needing adequate access to the herbal medicine and the dispensary operators that want to provide it.
Legal challenges to the ordinance are expected to come almost immediately. “I think a lot of court cases will come out of it,” said Council President Eric Garcetti, anticipating that fine tuning the provisions will be necessary once the ordinance has been in effect for a while.
Number of dispensaries capped at 70
The ordinance limits the number of dispensaries in the city to 70, but leaves room for up to 150 by allowing those dispensaries still operating and lawfully registered under the city’s 2007 Interim Control Ordinance to stay open if they comply with all aspects of the law. The dispensaries will be distributed around the city, based on each neighborhood’s percentage share of the city’s total population. A table showing the estimated population of each neighborhood, referred to as Community Plan Areas (CPAs ), and the number of medical marijuana collectives each CPA can contain, is incorporated into the ordinance. One CPA, Wilshire, can have up to six dispensaries, and some, such as Bel Air and Central City, will have none. Most CPA’s are authorized to have one or two dispensaries. It is estimated that currently 500 to 800 dispensaries are operating in Los Angeles.
The number and locations of the collectives are further restricted by the requirement that dispensaries be at least 1000 feet from sensitive use areas, such as schools. parks, libraries, religious institutions, child care facilities, youth centers, or any other medical marijuana collective. Additionally, no collective can be located “on a lot abutting, across the street or alley from, or having a common corner with a residential area. “ Fearful of not being able to find a nearby dispensary, medical marijuana advocates speaking at the council meeting pleaded with the members to reconsider the buffer zones, to no avail. Dispensaries that violate the buffer zones but meet the other conditions to stay open will have six months to find new locations.
Other provisions of the ordinance that will limit the ability of the dispensaries to operate include:
* prohibition of neon signs;
* collectives must be run on non profit basis with “reasonable compensation” commensurate with other non-profit organizations and no “bonuses” allowed to managing members;
*members can only belong to one collective and a person can manage only one dispensary in the city;
* requiring that marijuana be cultivated by the collective members on the premises of the collective;
* requiring marijuana be tested for impurities and labeled, and not provided to members if contaminated;
* prohibiting felons or persons with prior drug convictions from being involved in management of collectives; and
* requiring annual accountant-verified audits verifying each of the many records required by the law to be maintained.
Procedural rules require a unanimous council vote in order to pass an ordinance on the first vote. Since Council members Jan Perry, Bill Rosendah and Bernard C. Parks each voted against the ordinance, the Council will meet again, probably next Tuesday, for a second vote, at which time only a majority is required for passage. It will probably be at least a few weeks before the ordinance takes effect, because the council must set fees to be charged to the collectives that will cover the city’s costs of enforcement.
State law also vague
The California Compassionate Use Act 1996, Cal. Health & Saf. Code, § 11362.5 (1996) (codifying voter initiative Prop. 215) is the basis for Los Angeles’ ordinance. The state law is itself vague in many aspects, including the legality of store front dispensaries and the ability of the collectives to sell the marijuana. Given that there will be a proposition on California’s November 2010 ballot which, if passed, would legalize marijuana in general, pending state legislation that would do the same, and the imminent legal challenges to the ordinance, its unlikely that this ordinance will be the final word on the issue of medical marijuana in Los Angeles.