[author: Josh Crank]
Facing nearly 50,000 signatures in support of a ballot referendum to overturn their medical marijuana dispensary ban, the Los Angeles City Council voted Tuesday to overturn it themselves.
The city council voted down the ban it enacted in August, affecting dispensaries within city limits.
The 11-2 vote was followed by pleas from the council for legislators in the state capital to clarify California’s two medical marijuana statutes.
Council President Herb Wesson told NBC before the vote, “So I think we repeal this thing and do what we should have done years ago, which is go to Sacramento, close loopholes so that we can put in force a policy that we can enforce.”
Joining the votes to repeal the ban was Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who returned to work the day before after taking leave for cancer treatment. Rosendahl is a medical marijuana patient and supporter.
A meaningful vote
“The vote was particularly meaningful because of Bill Rosendahl, who was obviously very tired and quite weak,” said Sarah Armstrong, legal liason for the Greater Los Angeles Collective Alliance. “It was quite a shock for the council to see him and realize somebody sitting next to them is very much in need of medical marijuana, and if they persist in their ban, they’re putting this poor man in a terrible position. It was heart-rending to see, so while we’re very pleased with the vote, it’s hard to say there was dancing in the aisles.”
Councilman Jose Huizar
Speaking in defeat, Councilman Jose Huizar, who authored the ban and voted against its repeal, said “storefront medical marijuana dispensaries are not contemplated under state law and are therefore illegal.”
But Kris Hermes, spokesman for the medical marijuana advocacy organization Americans for Safe Access, said “it’s a huge cop-out by Huizar to say that there aren’t enough guidelines to establish local laws regulating medical marijuana dispensaries.”
Dozens of cities, towns and other local governments throughout California have established local ordinances to regulate dispensaries in their jurisdictions. Many limit the number of dispensaries in a given area and ensure that they operate outside of buffer zones around schools and parks.
“Numerous localities across the state are having no problems with their local guidelines, and most of them have a function of reducing crime in their areas,” Hermes said. “The City Council needs to step up to the plate and develop an ordinance to meet the needs of local patients and the Los Angeles community.”
Armstrong promises a “quick but vigilant fight to ensure the ordinance they pass is one we can live with.”
Armstrong points to older ordinances that created impossible conditions for marijuana dispensaries, including laws that required dispensaries to store massive amounts of paper records and have their marijuana inspected by federally licensed labs that are prohibited from handling banned substances.
In addition to their ongoing battles with local government, Los Angeles’ dispensaries are under continuous attack from the federal government. On September 25, U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte, Jr. served written warnings to 68 dispensaries and conducted DEA raids on three others. Many of the dispensaries were in Huizar’s district.
“The sale and distribution of marijuana violates federal law, and we intend to enforce the law,” Birotte said in a statement announcing the legal action. “Even those stores not targeted today should understand that they cannot continue to profit in violation of the law.”
The Council will reconvene next week for a final vote to confirm the ban’s repeal, which will require at least eight votes in favor.
Do you think California’s legislators should tighten the state’s medical marijuana laws? Or should Los Angeles follow the lead of other California cities and establish its own ordinances?