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Bid to overturn L.A. pot shop ban qualifies for ballot

The city clerk says activists had turned in enough valid signatures needed to force a vote on a law that bars the sale of cannabis but allows groups of 3 or less to grow and share it.

September 18, 2012|By David Zahniser and Kate Linthicum, Los Angeles Times
  • The Los Angeles City Council voted 14-0 in July to ban medical marijuana shops. Foes said the proliferation of dispensaries had gotten out of control. Video: Medical patients, caregivers can grow, share marijuana
The Los Angeles City Council voted 14-0 in July to ban medical marijuana… (Michael Robinson Chavez…)

Activists seeking to strike down a ban on medical marijuana outlets in Los Angeles saw their challenge qualify for the ballot Monday, dealing a setback to the city's latest attempt at a crackdown.

Backers of medical marijuana dispensaries needed 27,425 valid signatures to force a referendum on a law that prohibits the sale of cannabis but allows groups of three people or fewer to cultivate and share the drug.

City Clerk June Lagmay said a statistical sampling of the signatures submitted showed that activists had turned in 110% of the amount needed to qualify for the ballot. That announcement leaves the City Council, which has been confounded by the issue of pot shops for years, with three choices.

The council can repeal the ordinance, which was passed two months ago, and possibly replace it with a modified version; call a special election to consider the pot measure; or place the measure on the ballot in the March 5 election, when voters will choose a mayor, city controller, city attorney and eight council members.

Councilman Mitchell Englander, an outspoken foe of pot shops, said he wanted to keep fighting storefront marijuana sales but had not decided exactly how to respond. One possibility, he said, would be for the council to place its own medical marijuana ban on the ballot to compete with the one that just qualified.

"If we just bow down to the signature-gatherers, that's throwing in the towel, and I'm not willing to do that," he said.

Implementation of the medical marijuana ordinance has been on hold since activists turned in their signatures. Yami Bolanos, president of the Greater Los Angeles Collective Alliance, said she hoped the council would still change course by rescinding its ordinance and passing a new one that allows the city's oldest dispensaries to remain open.

"We are prepared to go to the ballot if that's what we need to do," she said. "But we'd rather deal with them here and now."

Jane Usher, who handles medical marijuana enforcement for City Atty. Carmen Trutanich, said her office would press ahead with its efforts to shut down dispensaries. Although the ordinance has been suspended, the city's municipal code does not include medical marijuana as an approved land use, she said.

The referendum has been supported by United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 770, which started organizing dispensary workers this year, and the Greater Los Angeles Collective Alliance, which represents dispensary operators who registered with the city before a moratorium on new pot shops was enacted in 2007.

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