Both sides rally on eve of L.A. vote on proposed pot shop ban

Michael Oliveri, who has cerebral palsy, smokes medical marijuana before the start of a rally and news conference outside Los Angeles City Hall. Oliveri, 28, and others say allowing some pot shops to remain open in L.A. is the “compassionate approach.” “I’m not fighting to get high,” he said. “I’m fighting to survive."
(Irfan Khan, Los Angeles Times)

The fight over the future of medical marijuana dispensaries in Los Angeles drew patients, union organizers and even a priest to City Hall on Monday on the eve of a major City Council vote on whether to outlaw pot shops.

The merits of the proposed ban, which would prohibit storefront sales of marijuana while still allowing small groups of patients and caregivers to grow it collectively, were hashed out at dueling rallies.

At one, a few residents and local leaders who favor the ban complained about the crime and nuisance wrought by dispensaries. “This is just a disaster,” said Jennifer Moran, who described walking with her young child through clouds of marijuana smoke outside a dispensary near her home in East Hollywood.

Medical marijuana: A July 24 LATExtra article about the Los Angeles City Council’s debate over pot dispensaries misidentified medical marijuana activists Michael Oliveri as having cerebral palsy. He has muscular dystrophy. —

At a larger, more boisterous event, dozens of medical marijuana patients came together with recently unionized dispensary workers to support a counter-proposal that would allow 100 shops to stay open, with strict regulations about where and when they can operate.

City officials contend that all of the city’s hundreds of dispensaries are now illegal, thanks to a state appellate court decision earlier this month.

The court upheld the city’s original medical marijuana ordinance, which allowed dispensaries that registered with the city in 2007 after the council adopted a moratorium on new stores.

The court ruling reinstated that ordinance in place of a temporary one. But the original law had a sunset clause and has expired.

That means that “currently, there’s really no ordinance,” said Asha Greenberg, an assistant city attorney.

The city’s repeated attempts to regulate pot shops against an ever-shifting legal landscape have drawn groans from dispensary opponents and supporters alike. Speaking at the union rally Monday, Michael Oliveri chided city lawmakers for treating the regulation of dispensaries “like a beach ball.”

Oliveri, 28, who has cerebral palsy, weighs 84 pounds. After the news conference, he sat in his wheelchair talking to reporters and taking hits of marijuana, which he said helps him with pain and his appetite.

He and other patients say that without dispensaries, they will be forced to turn to the black market. They said that allowing some shops to remain open is the “compassionate approach.”

“I’m not fighting to get high,” he said. “I’m fighting to survive.”

Lawmakers on both sides of the issue say they don’t know what will happen Tuesday. Council President Herb Wesson and Councilman Paul Koretz support the proposal that would offer immunity to 100 dispensaries. Council members Jose Huizar, Jan Perry, Bernard C. Parks and Mitchell Englander are pushing for a full ban.

In the absence of clear city policy, Englander has taken matters into his own hands. Working with police and the Los Angeles County district attorney, he has successfully pushed dozens of dispensaries out of his district in the west San Fernando Valley. He said about 60 pot shops have shut down in recent years after their owners were prosecuted for criminal activity, including weapons charges.