The next round of the costly, drawn-out legal brawl over how to control medical marijuana dispensaries in Los Angeles has begun with two new lawsuits challenging the city's latest ordinance.
The lawsuits, filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court, follow scores of other suits that stymied the city's fitful attempts to crack down on an unknown number of renegade dispensaries. The new ones could launch another series of judicial hearings and thwart the city's bid to enforce its ordinance.
Some of the oldest medical marijuana collectives in Los Angeles sued on April 13 to overturn the ordinance, which will choose the dispensaries to be allowed in a lottery, a process the lawsuit mocks as "a euphemism for a municipal game of 'Russian Roulette.'"
The 21 dispensaries suing the city are among those the City Council let operate when it adopted a moratorium on new stores in 2007. The city's first ordinance would have allowed them to stay open if they complied with restrictions on locations. But a judge ruled that key aspects of the law were unconstitutional, and the City Council passed a second ordinance that relies on a random drawing to select 100 dispensaries.
"We've done everything, everything that the city told us to do, and we're still sitting here looking at a lottery," said Yamileth Bolanos, the operator of PureLife Alternative Wellness Center, a dispensary on South La Cienega Boulevard. "We're fighting back. We have to fight back."
Bolanos, who also heads a coalition of the dispensaries the city allowed to operate during the moratorium, accused City Atty. Carmen Trutanich of creating an ordinance that could take her business away even though she said she has followed all city directives. "The city attorney has not acted in good faith," she said. "We don't believe that the things that he's done are fair."
House of Kush filed a separate lawsuit on March 21. The Eagle Rock dispensary and possibly hundreds of others were barred from participating in the lottery, which is limited to stores that were open when the city's moratorium took effect on Sept. 14, 2007. "This discriminatory treatment lacks a rational basis or compelling state interest," the lawsuit says.
A third lawsuit could be filed next week, said Stewart Richlin, an attorney who represents some of the dispensaries that successfully challenged the earlier ordinance. "We're going to bring it ASAP for multiple reasons," he said, "especially to stop any perception that this ordinance is constitutionally acceptable."
The city has appealed the judge's decision on its first ordinance, but has also taken steps to hold a lottery. It has accepted applications from 231 dispensaries and has told 206 others to close. Jane Usher, a special assistant city attorney, said the city disputes the claims in the new lawsuits.
Aaron Lachant, an attorney who represents the 21 plaintiffs that sued last week, said he plans to ask for an injunction to halt the lottery. "We'll file it as soon as we can," he said.
Lachant said the lawsuit is intended to protect the rights of those dispensaries the city allowed to remain open in 2007. City officials estimate that about 135 are still in business. "They want to work with the city, but they have not been given a fair chance," Lachant said.
The lawsuit targets the lottery and the process of choosing locations for dispensaries. It describes the lottery as "discriminatory, arbitrary, capricious, confiscatory and oppressive," and it calls the process of allowing the winners to pick their locations in the order they are drawn "a game of musical chairs."