More than a month after the Los Angeles City Council approved its medical marijuana ordinance and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa signed it into law on February 3, the ordinance has not been put into effect because the city is waiting to determine what fees the dispensary owners will be charged for monitoring sales and patient records.
On Tuesday, Americans for Safe Access, the largest medical marijuana advocacy organization in the country, filed a lawsuit against the city, alleging that the ordinance unfairly restricts dispensaries that will be forced to move because they are within 1,000 feet of sensitive uses such as residences, places of worship, schools and community centers.
According to Monica Valencia, deputy to Los Angeles City Councilman Ed Reyes, 1st District, the council is waiting for a report from the city’s Administrative Officer, the Building and Safety Department and the Los Angeles Police Department as to how much fees will be for the dispensaries. Valencia said the report will be available next week, but a city council review has not yet been scheduled.
Frank Mateljan, a communication deputy for the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office, said City Attorney Carmen Trutanich is eager to enforce the ordinance once it goes into effect. Both Trutanich and Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley contend that state law does not allow dispensaries to sell medical marijuana, and they plan to go after dispensary owners on the basis of the state law as well as the city ordinance. Last week, the city attorney’s office filed a civil lawsuit against Jeff Joseph, the owner of the Organica dispensary in Venice, and two other dispensaries in South Los Angeles, claiming he is illegally selling marijuana and must close. Joseph also faces a criminal case charging him with 24 felonies relating to drug possession and possession for sale.
“Our cases right now are evidence-driven, and if law enforcement provides us with evidence that a crime is taking place, then we will take action accordingly,” Mateljan said. “We are waiting for the ordinance to take effect, and when it does, we anticipate the ordinance will be another tool for prosecution.”
Mateljan had no comment on the lawsuit filed by Americans for Safe Access, but said the city attorney’s office would defend the city ordinance. The ordinance capped the number of dispensaries at 70, but may allow up to 150 because the city will allow dispensaries that registered before a moratorium took effect in 2007 to reapply for a new permit. The ordinance also requires that dispensaries located less than 1,000 feet from sensitive uses to move within seven days from the date it takes effect, which Joe Elford, the chief counsel for the Americans for Safe Access, said is unfair.
“The dispensary ordinance passed by the Los Angeles City Council might have been reasonable, if not for some onerous provisions,” Elford said. “The requirement to find a new location within seven days is completely unreasonable and undermines the due process of otherwise legal medical marijuana dispensaries.”
Elford also said the ordinance is flawed because the city has not provided any information on where the dispensaries that must close can move. The ordinance does not restrict where the dispensaries can be located, only where they cannot be located.
Although the district attorney and city attorney have targeted Joseph and his dispensaries, representatives from the Los Angeles Police Department said no law enforcement action is pending against dispensaries in the local area. Capt. Eric Davis, head of the LAPD’s Wilshire Division, and Lt. Robert Binder, head of detectives for the LAPD’s Hollywood Division, said they are waiting for the ordinance to take effect and for direction from the district attorney and the city attorney’s offices.
Meanwhile, some other dispensary owners are contemplating legal action, including Daniel Sosa, owner of the La Brea Collective at 812 S. La Brea Ave. La Brea Collective was one of the original dispensaries authorized by the city prior to the moratorium, and Sosa said he plans to reapply for a permit. He admitted, however, that he will likely have to find another location because the dispensary is within 1,000 feet of houses and a church.
“My general thoughts on the ordinance is that it is unenforceable and unclear,” Sosa said. “I don’t have any immediate plan to file a lawsuit, but I have lawyers ready if I have to. I presume it’s going to be challenged by multiple individuals and multiple collectives. Everyone is going to have to have a legal strategy, because this ordinance is going to affect everyone.”
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