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Los Angeles County D.A. prepares to crack down on pot outlets

Cooley says the vast majority of medical marijuana dispensaries in the county are operating illegally.

October 09, 2009|John Hoeffel

About 100 medical marijuana patients, activists and dispensary owners protested on a sidewalk outside the Montebello Country Club, where about 150 prosecutors and narcotics officers met. Motorists repeatedly honked and shook their fists in support as they rolled by, triggering cheers from the crowd.

Barry Kramer, the operator of California Patients Alliance, a collective on Melrose Avenue, said many dispensaries have responsibly regulated themselves for years in the vacuum left by the City Council's inaction.

"I feel like that gets lost," he said. "It's frustrating to get painted with one brush by the city."

Kramer said he believed that dispensaries would continue to operate. "People have found ways around marijuana laws for as long as there have been marijuana laws," he said.

But he also said that stepped-up prosecutions could resuscitate the criminal market: "Things will go underground. We'll see a lot more crime."

When Californians voted for Proposition 215 in 1996, they made it legal for patients with a doctor's recommendation and their caregivers to possess and raise pot for the patient's medical use.

In 2003, the Legislature allowed patients and caregivers "collectively or cooperatively to cultivate marijuana for medical purposes" but said they could not do it for profit.

Cooley and Trutanich, after reviewing a state Supreme Court decision from last year, have concluded that the law protects collectives from prosecution only in the cultivation of marijuana, not for sales or distribution.

Medical marijuana advocates, however, note that the state currently requires dispensaries to collect sales taxes on marijuana, and that guidelines drawn up by the attorney general conclude that "a properly organized and operated collective or cooperative that dispenses medical marijuana through a storefront may be lawful."

The guidelines allow collectives to take costs into account but do not deal directly with over-the-counter sales.

Jacob Appelsmith, special assistant attorney general, said Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown talked to Cooley on Thursday. "Our staffs are continuing to meet about these issues," he said.

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john.hoeffel@latimes.com

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