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Los Angeles could act on medical pot in early November

A proposal to ban all sales of medical marijuana in the city is unlikely to be taken up next week. Aides to Councilman Smith say he supports it and believes it would force most dispensaries to close.

October 23, 2009|John Hoeffel

The Los Angeles City Council moved Thursday to consider a controversial medical marijuana ordinance in early November, as a poll released by a national organization that supports marijuana legalization found that more than three-quarters of voters in the county want dispensaries regulated, not prosecuted and closed.

The council action comes after a Superior Court judge ruled Monday that the city's moratorium on dispensaries had been illegally extended. With the city unable to enforce it, Councilman Greig Smith decided Thursday not to hold a hearing on the proposed ordinance in the Public Safety Committee, but to send it straight to the council.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday, October 24, 2009 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 National Desk 2 inches; 70 words Type of Material: Correction
Medical marijuana: An article in Friday's Section A on medical marijuana misattributed a quote to Los Angeles City Council President Eric Garcetti. It was Councilman Greig Smith who, commenting on a proposed ordinance drafted by City Atty. Carmen Trutanich's office, said, "I would prefer to stop all sales of medical marijuana in the city, but the ordinance proposed by City Atty. Trutanich comes as close as the law will allow."

Council President Eric Garcetti's office indicated it will not come up next week but might the week after.

The measure, which was largely drafted by City Atty. Carmen Trutanich's office, would prohibit sales of medi- cal marijuana. Smith's aides said he supports the provi- sion and believes it would force most dispensaries to close. City officials have no idea how many there are, but estimates range from several hundred to 1,100.

Most dispensaries in the city sell marijuana and pay state sales taxes. Operators, however, say the transactions are donations that are intended to recoup their operating costs.

"I would prefer to stop all sales of medical marijuana in the city, but the ordinance proposed by City Atty. Trutanich comes as close as the law will allow," Garcetti said.

Trutanich and Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley say that most, if not all, dispensaries are operated for profit. Under state law, medical marijuana cannot be cultivated or distributed for profit.

The proposed ordinance would "put the genie back in the bottle and it will add order to this chaos," Trutanich said. He said he had a team of lawyers working on the issue and promised to proceed judiciously.

"You don't see me jumping out and doing legal stuff willy-nilly," he said after a speech at City Hall to members of the Chamber of Commerce.

"We're aware of the public's demand for medical marijuana, and we have to make sure we don't interrupt that, but we have to make sure that the public is also protected."

Medical marijuana advocates say the proposed ordinance is a thinly disguised ban. About 75 rallied Thursday outside City Hall. Supporters carried placards aimed at Trutanich and Cooley, including: "LA is unTru!," "Shame on Nuch" and "Cooley = 100% Lies," a reference to the district attorney's contention that "about 100%" of the dispensaries operate illegally.

Rumors of raids on dispensaries rippled through the crowd, and advocates from the Union of Medical Marijuana Patients said they were exploring whether they could get an injunction to stop Cooley.

The poll, completed Monday and Tuesday, also found that 74% of the county's voters support the state's medical marijuana law, while 54% want to see marijuana legalized, regulated and taxed like alcohol.

The Marijuana Policy Project, based in Washington, D.C., commissioned the poll by an independent firm, Mason-Dixon Polling & Research, after Cooley and Trutanich threatened to prosecute dispensaries.

"I think the take-home message here is voters in L.A. County overwhelmingly support the state's medical marijuana law. They think dispensaries, properly regulated, can be a part of that, and Mr. Cooley's really out of step," said Bruce Mirken, the California-based spokesman for the organization.

The poll of 625 regular voters found that 77% want to regulate dispensaries, while 14% want them closed. Both Democrats (83 vs. 7%) and Republicans (62 vs. 30%) support regulation over prosecution.

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john.hoeffel@latimes.com

Times staff writer Maeve Reston contributed to this report.

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