Pot shop ban advances in L.A. City Council

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A City Council committee moved forward with a ban on medical marijuana dispensaries Tuesday, approving a recommendation to outlaw storefront pot shops in Los Angeles while allowing small groups of patients and their primary caregivers to grow the drug on their own.

The proposed ban comes after years of legal wrangling over how the city should regulate distribution of the drug.

In 2007, the city imposed a moratorium on dispensaries, but a loophole allowed hundreds of new pot shops to proliferate. In reaction, lawmakers approved an ordinance two years ago that called for a lottery to limit which dispensaries should be allowed to operate.

But City Atty. Carmen Trutanich now says that ordinance should be revoked because it may violate federal law. The turning point was an appellate court ruling last year that Long Beach, which also imposed a lottery, was violating federal law by in effect sanctioning the distribution of drugs.

The proposed ban in Los Angeles would last at least until the California Supreme Court reviews the Long Beach case.

The ban has the strong backing of Councilman Jose Huizar, who represents the Eagle Rock neighborhood where a heavy concentration of dispensaries has long riled residents. Huizar says revoking the current ordinance would limit the city’s liability.

But medical marijuana advocates say the ban would unfairly limit access to the drug for patients who have come to rely on it. They say the small collectives, which would be limited to three people, allowed under the proposed ban would be hard on those who do not have the time or expertise to cultivate the drug.

The advocates support a counterproposal in which the city would ban most dispensaries but refrain from taking action against about 100 that opened before the 2007 moratorium and can meet a set of other regulations that would limit where they could locate and their hours of operation.

The counterproposal has the backing of Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who spoke in favor of it at the Planning and Land Use Management Committee. Rosendahl’s Westside district includes Venice, where there are nearly as many dispensaries as hot dog shacks.

He said the number of pot shops in Los Angeles “is out of control,” but he said outlawing them outright would create more problems than it would solve because it would force the medical marijuana industry underground.

“To ban it would be totally insane and throw it right back into the back alleys,” Rosendahl said.

The committee, which includes Huizar, voted to move forward both the ban and the counterproposal, although all three of its members said they favor a ban. One of them, Councilman Mitchell Englander, told medical marijuana advocates in the crowd that bad operators at some dispensaries have brought crime and given the whole industry a bad name.

“People have gotten hurt, people have gotten killed, women have been raped,” he said.

Englander’s Public Safety Committee will consider the issue as soon as next week, after which it will be taken up by the full council.