L.A. County moves to ban medical marijuana dispensaries in unincorporated areas

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors moved Tuesday to ban medical marijuana dispensaries in unincorporated areas of the county, which would cover areas with a population of 1.5 million people.

The motion is the first step toward reversing the county’s 4-year-old policy on the dispensaries, which are allowed with strict prohibitions on their location: They cannot be within 1,000 feet of churches, daycare centers, libraries, playgrounds, schools and other sensitive uses.

To date, the county has not approved a single dispensary in an unincorporated area. One applicant was rejected, another withdrew its request and three others were being considered.


The supervisors’ action directs county staff to prepare an ordinance to implement the ban. It first needs to be considered by the Regional Planning Commission and then by the Board of Supervisors, a process that could take at least three or four months.

Some supervisors are worried that more dispensaries are on the way, which they said could attract crime. Another factor was the city of Los Angeles’ recent aggressive push to shut down dispensaries that are illegal under a city ordinance that took effect four weeks ago, raising concern that dispensary owners would be searching for a new home.

“It leaves the unincorporated portion vulnerable,” said Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich, author of the motion. The board, he said, needs to protect residents’ “safety and property values.”

Supervisor Gloria Molina expressed dismay at illegal pot dispensaries that have sprouted in Valinda.

“It takes anywhere from six months to a year to close one down that is started illegally,” Molina said, asking staff to come back with suggestions on speeding up enforcement.

While approving the motion, Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky expressed strong objections to rewriting a law he said worked.

“It’s the illegal ones that are driving everybody crazy,” Yaroslavsky said.

Barry Kramer, a medical cannabis patient who lives in L.A., urged supervisors to focus on targeting illegal clubs, rather than ones that want to operate legally.

“It’s not the ordinance that’s bad,” Kramer said. “They definitely don’t need to ban access to legitimate patients.”

Daryl Dittebrand, who lives in an unincorporated neighborhood near Arcadia, expressed opposition to a proposed medical marijuana dispensary 60 feet away from his home.

“I am fearful of what it’s going to do to my neighborhood. I’m afraid of the crime, and I’m afraid of the potential for armed robbery,” Dittebrand said.

An initiative passed in 1996 and a state law adopted in 2003 allow patients and caregivers to form collectives to cultivate marijuana, but cities and counties have considerable power to regulate where dispensaries can operate. Some dispensaries have filed court challenges to those regulations.