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The City of Los Angeles’ long-anticipated medical marijuana ordinance went into effect Monday, and several dispensaries that were operating illegally in the Melrose area appear to have closed.
Paul Lerner, co-founder of the Melrose Action Neighborhood Watch, said his group conducted a survey Monday evening of the nine dispensaries that were still operating in the area as of last week, and found that all had been shuttered. While he said the group will continue to monitor the dispensaries to ensure they remain shuttered, the closures are a big step in the right direction. The Melrose Action Neighborhood Watch had been fighting to force the dispensaries to close for more than a year. At one point earlier this year, 15 were operating in the stretch of Melrose Avenue between Fairfax and Highland Avenues.
“Everything went great. We found that basically, all of the pot stores on Melrose are now closed,” Lerner said. “We were pleased, relieved and a little surprised. We had been told that some of these places were making $10,000 a day, and thought some might try to fight it out in the courts. But it seems like the threat of jail time and fines might have been more significant to them.”
Officer Arthur Gallegos, of the Los Angeles Police Department’s Wilshire Division, also confirmed that the dispensaries were closed. Gallegos, a senior lead officer representing the Melrose area, added that he was pleased with the voluntary compliance.
“It looks like they are all closed, we haven’t had any problems,” Gallegos said. “We will be checking to see if they stay closed, but so far things are going well.”
Frank Mateljan, a spokesman for the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office, said officials are hoping for voluntary compliance, and that the dispensaries appear to be closing citywide. He did not know how many remained open, but said the LAPD and inspectors with the city’s Building and Safety Department would be checking during the next couple of weeks to see if any of the illegal dispensaries remain open. Last month, the city attorney’s office sent letters to the owners of 439 dispensaries informing them they must close. The operators of those that remain open are subject to fines of $2,500 per day, as well as potential jail time. Property owners who allow illegal dispensaries to continue operating in their buildings are also subject to criminal prosecution.
“We are moving as methodically and effectively as we can,” Mateljan said. “It may take some time, but that shouldn’t give any dispensaries any comfort or relief. We will check on the 439 we sent letters to, and then we can figure out what might be the most appropriate course of action for enforcement.”
The ordinance allows dispensaries that registered with the city before a 2007 moratorium took effect to stay open, and it is estimated that approximately 140 will qualify under the provision. Two of the dispensaries — the La Brea Collective in the 800 block of La Brea Avenue, and Grateful Meds, in the 400 block of N. La Brea Avenue — were open prior to the moratorium and will be allowed to stay open, pending the review of a new application for a permit. The pre-existing dispensaries will have until December to close if they are not approved. They must comply with provisions under the new ordinance, which stipulates that dispensaries cannot be located next to residences or sensitive uses such as schools, religious institutions, community centers and libraries.
Lerner said he expects the closure of the Melrose Avenue dispensaries to have a positive effect on business, and hopes it will also improve safety in the surrounding neighborhoods. Some of the dispensaries in the area had been targeted for robberies during the past two years, and some residents felt intimidated by the operators and their clientele.
“It will bring some peace to this neighborhood, and it will bring a lot of peace of mind to the residents and the business owners,” Lerner added. “It will actually make the Melrose commercial strip more attractive to new businesses coming in. A lot of people looked at Melrose and didn’t want to locate here because it looked so trashy with all the dispensaries and their stoned customers. We hope that will all change now.”
The Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office has established an e-mail address where people can report dispensaries that continue to operate in violation of the ordinance at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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