Supervisors in Los Angeles and Orange counties moved in sync Tuesday to ban medical marijuana dispensaries in unincorporated territories.
The bans, affecting an area with 1.5 million people in L.A. County and 120,000 in Orange County, were approved in 4-1 votes in both counties.
"Attracting crime and other nuisances, these facilities have a negative impact on the communities where they've operated — leading more than 100 cities and nine counties in California to pass similar ordinances," said Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich, who wrote L.A. County's provision.
In Orange County, Supervisor Shawn Nelson voted against the measure because he said it would exacerbate the black market for the drug. In Los Angeles, Zev Yaroslavsky was the lone no vote.
"This is not some sort of scheme or scam. This is not some sort of joke," Yaroslavsky said, noting that he had seen marijuana help friends afflicted with cancer.
Gary Kearns, a 59-year-old Los Angeles County resident suffering from AIDS, was among many members of the public who came to speak against the ban. "I submit to you that compassion is an element of successful public policy, and I would suggest that the intent of this ban is not compassionate," he said.
Yaroslavsky said the board should instead focus on dispensaries that operate illegally without a permit and wrote a motion to step up enforcement.
That measure, approved unanimously, directs county staff to take advantage of their ability to fine illegal dispensaries $1,000 a day. Although the county has used other tools in attempting to close unauthorized shops, assessing hefty fines has never been done, according to county staff.
"I'm going to say there's two bad actors," Supervisor Gloria Molina told county staff. "There's the lousy marijuana suppliers who are illegally setting up and making all the medical marijuana look bad and … [there's] you all. If you would enforce the rules, these folks wouldn't be out there operating illegally."
Molina said her office has been flooded with calls from residents saying that the illegal dispensaries have brought crime and blight.
"Why don't you use everything you have to get them the hell out of unincorporated areas?" Molina asked county staff. "I'm going to support the ban right now because you guys aren't assisting us in getting rid of the illegal operators. All of the residents are complaining, and in my area, it's really bad."
County officials said a tally of illegal dispensaries was unavailable.
Another factor in the ordinances' passage was the city of Los Angeles' recent aggressive push to shut down dispensaries that don't comply with a city ordinance that took effect four weeks ago. Some supervisors expressed concern that dispensary owners would be searching for a new home.
In Orange County, the Sheriff's Department submitted a report that found dispensaries responsible for an uptick in robberies, burglaries, weapons violations and money laundering.
Orange County supervisors had never regulated medical marijuana. But in Los Angeles County, Tuesday's votes marked a change in course. The ban reversed the county's four-year-old policy on dispensaries, which were allowed with strict location prohibitions: They could not be within 1,000 feet of churches, day-care centers, libraries, playgrounds, schools and other sensitive areas.
To date, L.A. County has not approved a single dispensary in an unincorporated area. Two were rejected and three are still pending.
The bans in both counties must be read again at a future meeting for final approval, and are expected to go into effect at the end of the year.