In 2003, the Legislature adopted a bill that attempted to clarify the initiative, allowing patients and caregivers to "associate within the State of California in order collectively or cooperatively to cultivate marijuana for medical purposes" and exempting them from prosecution for selling, transporting and distributing pot.
The city attorney's office argues that these exemptions apply only to the act of cultivating marijuana, and not to selling it.
Medical marijuana advocates say that's ludicrous, that the Legislature meant to shield collectives from prosecution for selling, transporting or distributing their crop. The three council members who have devoted the most study to the issue appear sympathetic to that view.
"Whether the sales happen over the counter, under a basket or standing on their head, they're legal," said Don Duncan, California director of Americans for Safe Access.
Dispensary owners argue that they are not engaging in over-the-counter sales. "It's an incremental reimbursement for costs that have been collectively incurred," said Michael Backes, who runs Cornerstone Collective in Eagle Rock.
Duncan said he believed no dispensary in Los Angeles could stay in business if such sales were barred. "There's really no other way to do it," he said.
"This ordinance pretends that medical marijuana facilities are some sort of idyllic Maoist commune and everyone simply shares in the labor of producing the medicine."