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Putting a lid on pot sales

Weeding out illegitimate medical marijuana dispensaries is a job for the cops, not the City Council.

October 30, 2009

For-profit medical marijuana dispensers beware: The city of Los Angeles is focusing its finest legal and political minds on putting you out of business. And if you want to see what happens when you run afoul of this crack team of nuisance abaters, just look at the fate of those trying to put up illegal billboards all over town.

Oops, bad example. L.A. has been trying for years to limit billboards, only to violate its own ordinance by carving out exceptions and see its ban overturned in court. That doesn't mean city officials couldn't do a better job with marijuana, but their record doesn't inspire confidence.

The City Council has been trying unsuccessfully for two years to stop the spread of dispensaries, issuing a moratorium in 2007 but then failing to enforce it and allowing anyone who claimed "hardship" status to open a new storefront. That moratorium was voided last week in court, prompting the council to push forward plans for a vote on a new city ordinance placing heavy restrictions on where and how marijuana clinics can operate. But the ordinance, now in its fourth draft, was too tough for some members, so it's headed back for a fifth draft.

Here's a thought for the council: The next time a marijuana ordinance appears, just say no. The city doesn't need one.

Medical marijuana has become a serious nuisance in L.A. Hundreds of stores have cropped up in recent years, many concentrated in downtrodden neighborhoods and bringing a criminal element with them. There are legitimate marijuana cooperatives serving genuinely ill patients, yet there are also storefronts pushing pot to recreational users and raking in illicit profits while getting their supply from criminal cartels in Mexico and Northern California. The city doesn't need a new ordinance to get rid of the latter. It could just start enforcing state law.

In August 2008, Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown released a set of guidelines on possession, cultivation and use of medical marijuana. To operate legally, distributors must be nonprofit cooperatives or collectives. The former are democratically controlled operations in which profits are shared by their members, who are also their patrons. The latter facilitate transactions between members who are legally entitled to grow their own marijuana. A later ruling by the California Supreme Court decreed that medical marijuana distributors must be their clients' "primary caregivers," meaning someone who has consistently assumed responsibility for their housing, health or safety. That rules out a dispensary owner selling trippy buds behind a counter.

A problem caused by a failure to enforce the law won't be solved by passing a new law. It's time to call in the cops, not the council members.

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