The California Supreme Court ruled Monday that cities and counties can regulate medical marijuana dispensaries. The ruling clears the way for the city of Los Angeles to legally implement regulations under one of three measures to be decided by voters on May 21.
The ruling bolsters efforts by the Los Angeles City Council and the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office in trying to limit the proliferation of dispensaries throughout the city, while still providing access to the drug for seriously ill patients. Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar, 14th District, previously called for a “gentle ban” that would have banned dispensaries but allowed patients and their caregivers to grow medical marijuana for their personal use. That ban was later overturned, however, after medical marijuana advocates gathered enough signatures to force a ballot initiative.
“This [ruling] validates the vote the Los Angeles City Council took in support of our ‘gentle ban’ ordinance. I’ve said all along, we should wait for clarity on medical marijuana from the state Supreme Court and a revamping of a broken law by the state Legislature before acting on any new comprehensive medical marijuana legislation in the city,” Huizar said. “This court ruling tells us that if chaos ensues once again and there is rampant abuse of whatever ordinance voters approve on May 21, we as a city have the authority to outright ban medical marijuana dispensaries.”
The medical marijuana initiatives will appear on the ballot as Measures D, E and F. Measure D, which is supported by City Councilman Paul Koretz, 5th District, combines elements of the other measures. It would cap the number of dispensaries within the city at 135, the approximate number that were operating before the city initially passed a moratorium on the dispensaries in 2007, and would raise taxes on dispensaries from $50 to $60 per $1,000 of gross earnings. Measure E caps the number of dispensaries operating at 135, but does not levy any new taxes. Measure F places no limits on the number of dispensaries, currently believed to be more than 1,000 citywide, but raises the tax on dispensaries from $50 to $60 per $1,000 of gross earnings. Koretz said Measure D is the best solution for regulation.
“I think Measure D is essentially the answer we have been looking for the past four or five years,” Koretz said. “I think a majority of the public will vote for Measure D, because it strikes a balance of eliminating the nuisance of having too many dispensaries in a particular neighborhood, while allowing access to patients who need it.”
Frank Mateljan, a spokesman for the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office, said authorities are waiting to learn which ballot measure prevails before taking any new enforcement action. City Attorney Carmen Trutanich, who is currently running for a second term and will appear on the same ballot as the medical marijuana initiatives, issued a statement regarding the California Supreme Court ruling.
“As expected, the Supreme Court has unanimously affirmed that local governments have the authority and obligation to protect public safety and regulate land uses, including the distribution of safe and readily accessible medical marijuana to patients and their caregivers,” Trutanich said. “A city’s decision whether to ban, regulate or limit the number of medical marijuana collectives must be made in an open, public and transparent manner, so that the needs and concerns of all in the community are heard.”
Attorney and former State Assemblyman Mike Feuer, who is running against Trutanich for city attorney in the May 21 runoff election, also said he believes a balance is needed regarding medical marijuana regulation.
“I have always supported the ability of cancer patients to have access to medical marijuana to alleviate their suffering. Also, there are too many dispensaries in Los Angeles, they are too close to sensitive locations such as parks, schools and playgrounds, and it is not taxed adequately,” Feuer said. “I support Measure D because it strikes an appropriate balance between patients in need of medical marijuana, and the important public safety goals each of us share in the city.”
The three medical marijuana ballot measures need 50 percent of the vote for passage. If all three receive 50 percent, the measure with the most votes will be approved. If none of the measures garner 50 percent of votes, the city council will take another look at regulation, according to Koretz.
“We would probably be looking at a ban,” he added. “We then wouldn’t have a good way to regulate our way out of the nuisance the dispensaries have produced in our neighborhoods.”
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