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The Los Angeles City Council’s medical marijuana dispensary ban, which was to take effect on Sept. 6, has been suspended by the City Attorney’s Office while the city clerk verifies signatures submitted by advocates looking to overturn the ban.
The city attorney stated on Sept. 6 that the ban would be suspended for 15 to 45 days so that the city clerk can verify the signatures. If the signatures are verified, by law the gentle ban will be suspended until the city council acts. If verified, the council can opt to repeal the ban, hold a special election or place it on the March 2013 ballot.
City Councilman Dennis Zine, 3rd District, didn’t specify what option he would support if the signatures are verified. He voted for the ban and a subsequent ordinance that would allow 182 dispensaries that existed prior to 2007 to continue to operate under “strict” restrictions.
“I supported this action that would eventually allow the registered dispensaries to operate because I believe in limited, controlled, safe access,” Zine said. “I think that the council can craft a restrictive, yet compassionate law.”
He said dispensaries are a problem in his district, and that court decisions have limited the city’s enforcement options. Zine said constituents complain to his office and the LAPD about the dispensaries, largely because marijuana is easily accessible, people smoke in surrounding neighborhoods and armed robberies occur.
“I believe the main attraction for crime is that it is a cash-and-carry business,” he said. “The difference is that with banks and liquor stores, we have regulatory agencies that place controls on these businesses. So far, in Los Angeles, we have been unable to successfully regulate the storefront dispensaries because we have been hampered by litigation and disparities between local, state and federal law.”
Kris Hermes, of Americans for Safe Access, which helped gather signatures to challenge the ban, said he supported the postponement of the ban, calling it a “sensible approach.” He said “the vast majority of Angelenos” support the local distribution system of medical marijuana.
“Throughout California, the vast majority of qualified patients … depend on this type of centralized distribution,” Hermes said.
He said opponents of the ban garnered more than 50,000 signatures, far exceeding the 28,000 required. Hermes said this is largely because people understand that some patients can’t grow medical marijuana or find someone to do it for them.
“Without the centralized distribution system, patients are forced to either drive long distances … or are forced to go without a medication that is legal under state law or it gets pushed into the illicit market,” he added.
Hermes said many cities in California have adopted regulation ordinances after dispensaries were legally allowed to operate. He said many are straightforward and haven’t resulted in court appearances.
“Unfortunately, Los Angeles bungled the job of creating regulations similar to cities around the state and is mired in litigation,” Hermes said.
He said that, while robberies do occur, Americans for Safe Access’ studies, as well as independent studies, have shown that crime decreases around dispensaries. Hermes said some cities require extensive security, and the security cameras at the locations can deter crime.
“We believe patients will prevail,” he said.
The city clerk’s office has verified the number of signatures, but is now conducting a random sampling of the petitions.
The office has until Sept. 20 to verify the petitions. According to the city attorney’s office, if the signatures are verified and the council opts to put the ban on the March ballot, the enforcement of the gentle ban will be postponed until the election.
The LAPD will continue to enforce laws against illegal sales of medical marijuana, and residents can report tips to the department at (800)662-2878.
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