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L.A. City Council puts off medical marijuana vote

Although members appear likely to ignore prosecutors and allow dispensaries to sell pot, they say they need time to study numerous proposed amendments.

November 22, 2009|By John Hoeffel
  • Michael Oliveri, who says he relies on medical marijuana for the treatment of several ailments, appears before the L.A. City Council during a hearing.
Michael Oliveri, who says he relies on medical marijuana for the treatment… (Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles…)

The Los Angeles City Council on Wednesday postponed a vote on a medical marijuana ordinance, with members saying they needed time to study numerous proposed amendments.

But council members, who will return to the measure Tuesday, pressed for a quick end to a drawn-out deliberation that has unfolded as hundreds of dispensaries opened.

"I think that we need to act relatively quickly," said council President Eric Garcetti. "We need some protection in there now to improve what's out there. We also need to be able to deter bad operators."

The council appeared likely to allow dispensaries to sell marijuana, dismissing City Atty. Carmen Trutanich's advice and ignoring Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley's harsh criticism.

The two prosecutors insist that state law allows collectives only to be reimbursed for the cost of growing marijuana. Cooley said he will prosecute dispensaries that sell it.

One of the most controversial motions, introduced by Councilman Jose Huizar, would cap the number of dispensaries at 70, which would be chosen at random and distributed based on population over the 35 community plan areas.

City planning officials said that under Huizar's proposal, the Wilshire area would have six dispensaries and Hollywood would have four, estimates that drew groans and laughter from medical marijuana advocates in the audience.

Huizar also would deny preferential treatment to the 186 dispensaries that were approved to operate under the moratorium adopted in 2007.

The proposed ordinance would give those dispensaries six months to come into compliance, while all others would have to close.

Some, including Councilwoman Janice Hahn, said that would be unfair to dispensaries that played by the rules.

"I would have a problem really kind of going after them," she said.

A last-minute proposal from Councilman Ed Reyes, who oversaw the two-year effort to craft the law, would create a system to audit dispensaries to make sure they operate as nonprofits, as state law requires.

"We want to start creating that wall that essentially begins to push out all of the elements that create pain and havoc," he said.

Reyes also proposed reducing the required distance between dispensaries and schools, parks, libraries and other places where children gather from the current proposal of 1,000 feet to 500 feet.

A city study showed that less than a quarter of the 186 approved dispensaries would be able to meet the requirement.

In other proposed changes, Huizar would allow operators to run only one collective, and Councilman Dennis Zine would limit patients and caregivers to membership in just one collective.

Councilman Paul Koretz, who was a co-author of the state law that attempted to clarify the 1996 initiative, introduced a series of amendments that borrow from West Hollywood, which has had an ordinance for four years.

City officials and Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies said they have received no complaints about dispensaries for several years.

Koretz would require dispensary managers to meet regularly with police and city officials, deposit each day's cash and keep no more than $200 overnight to deter robberies, hire unarmed security guards to patrol a two-block area, and provide neighbors within 200 feet the name of a contact to call with complaints.

john.hoeffel@latimes.com

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