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Some L.A. pot growers, manufacturers may get legal grace period ahead of licensing

Under a plan passed Tuesday by the City Council, Los Angeles could provide a grace period for some marijuana growers and manufacturers — allowing them to avoid prosecution and continue operating while they seek city licenses.

City lawyers are now tasked with drafting proposed regulations that lay out ground rules for businesses that grow, sell, process and distribute marijuana in Los Angeles before the ordinance comes back for another vote.

Council President Herb Wesson said that the package of proposed rules was “not totally complete” but that he wanted to kick off the process of drawing up the legal language for the complex regulations.

“We still have more than enough time to make adjustments,” Wesson said, trying to reassure council members who were uneasy about pressing ahead.

The sole lawmaker to vote against the move was Paul Krekorian, who said the council should make its decisions before turning to city lawyers to draft the proposed law. At a hearing that lasted for more than an hour, Krekorian and other council members raised a host of questions about the proposed regulations.

“This is our decision to make — not the city attorney,” Krekorian said.

L.A. is hustling to hammer out regulations as California prepares to legalize the sale of recreational marijuana and start issuing state licenses next year. The proposed rules will replace city restrictions under Proposition D, which allowed a limited number of pot shops to operate in the city.

They will set out how marijuana businesses can apply for city licenses and the rules of operation, including what hours they can be open, what records they must keep and what security systems they have to install.

Wesson proposed a long list of changes to the original draft rules, reacting to concerns raised by neighborhood groups, marijuana businesses and other lawmakers.

Cannabis industry groups had protested that an earlier version would have forced existing growers and manufacturers to shut down while they waited to get city licenses.

Under the revised plan, L.A. would hold off on prosecuting some existing marijuana growers or manufacturers while they seek city permits. Eligible businesses would have to provide proof that they had been providing pot to marijuana shops that were operating in line with city rules, sign an agreement protecting the city from liability and meet other requirements.

Neighborhood activists, in turn, had complained that the draft law would sharply limit who could challenge the approval of a marijuana business, only allowing appeals from “occupants, stakeholders, or property owners who reside or own property” within 500 feet of the business.

In reaction, Wesson amended the proposed rules to remove that restriction, which is not imposed when people want to appeal against other kinds of businesses.

The revised plan also asks city lawyers to devise a system to prevent an “undue concentration” of marijuana businesses in each neighborhood, using a process similar to restrictions on the alcohol industry. And it asks the city attorney’s office to come up with rules for “social consumption” — gathering places where people are allowed to consume marijuana — after activists warned that many renters and tourists might not have a legal place to use cannabis.

L.A. also is considering restrictions on where pot shops and other marijuana businesses can open their doors.

Those rules, which city officials said were not part of the proposed regulations voted on Tuesday, would limit marijuana retailers to most commercial and industrial zones and bar them from opening within 800 feet of schools, public parks, libraries, alcohol and drug rehabilitation programs and other pot shops.

And in an attempt to address the uneven effects of the drug war, L.A. also is planning to provide extra help to people from marginalized communities who are seeking to run marijuana businesses.

The proposed “social equity” program would benefit poor people who have marijuana convictions, as well as their family members; people with low incomes who live or have lived in areas that were heavily affected by marijuana arrests; and companies that agree to help disadvantaged applicants.

Several lawmakers, including Wesson and Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson, have voiced support for the plan, but it has yet to go up for a vote.

emily.alpert@latimes.com

Twitter: @LATimesEmily

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