A newly formed association of Los Angeles medical marijuana collectives has challenged the city's efforts to control dispensaries, claiming in a lawsuit that the 2-year-old moratorium is unconstitutionally vague and that the City Council violated state law when it extended the ban until mid-March.
The lawsuit, filed late Monday, is the first to take aim at the city's attempts to halt the explosive growth in dispensaries. It comes as the City Council's Planning Committee continued Tuesday to struggle with a permanent ordinance to replace the moratorium.
Representatives from the city attorney's office, the district attorney's office and the Police Department reiterated to the committee their contention that over-the-counter sales of medical marijuana are illegal under state law.
Most of the hundreds of dispensaries in Los Angeles currently sell marijuana that way.
At the same time, Councilman Dennis Zine and other council members repeated their insistence that any ordinance that did not allow for marijuana sales would be unworkable, as did many medical marijuana advocates at the committee hearing.
The lawsuit, filed by the Los Angeles Collective Assn. and the Green Oasis dispensary, charges that the moratorium is "unreasonable, discriminatory and overly broad."
It also accuses the City Council of failing to follow required procedures when it extended the ban. In addition, it claims that the council is precluded by state law from extending the moratorium beyond 24 months.
"They're basically operating without an ordinance," said Robert A. Kahn, an attorney who is representing the association and Green Oasis.
Councilman Ed Reyes, who is overseeing the drafting of an ordinance, was not surprised by the lawsuit. "It's another sword hanging over our head," he said. "Now, we have to move as diligently as possible."
But Reyes said an ordinance was still months away.
Jeri Burge with the city attorney's office declined to discuss the lawsuit's claims. "We're reviewing it," she said.
At a hearing Tuesday in L.A. County Superior Court, Judge James C. Chalfant declined to issue a temporary restraining order that would have barred the city from enforcing the moratorium.
Dan Lutz, a co-owner of Green Oasis and president of the collective association, said he was motivated to file the lawsuit after the City Council voted to shut down his dispensary, which he and a partner opened in May.
Lutz, like hundreds of other dispensary owners in Los Angeles, had filed a request with the City Council for an exemption from the moratorium to be allowed to operate, but opened without permission.
The council failed to act on these requests until June, an oversight that prevented city officials from taking legal steps to close the dispensaries. The council has since denied every request that has come before it.
"We were being railroaded by kangaroo courts," Lutz said. "They were just denying them out of hand. Obviously their intent was just to close everyone down."