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Rival marijuana measures thrown into the electoral pot

Three competing measures on the May 21 city ballot have divided L.A.'s medical cannabis industry, with each side accusing the other of trying only to protect profits, not do what is best for patients.

April 21, 2013|By Kate Linthicum, Los Angeles Times
  • Medical marijuana patients and supporters of Proposition D, including City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, center, at a rally in support of a medical marijuana measure on the May 21 municipal ballot.
Medical marijuana patients and supporters of Proposition D, including… (Christina House, For the…)

Dozens of medical marijuana activists rallied outside Los Angeles City Hall last week, declaring war on an enemy.

Their target was not the federal government, whose agents raided several local dispensaries in recent days, or neighborhood groups trying to shut down the city's estimated 700 pot shops.

The enemy was fellow medical marijuana advocates.

Three competing measures on the May 21 city ballot have divided L.A.'s lucrative medical cannabis industry, with each side accusing the other of trying only to protect profits, not do what is best for patients.


FOR THE RECORD:
Marijuana measures: In the April 22 Section A, an article about competing medical marijuana measures on Los Angeles' May 21 ballot said that Proposition D was backed by the Los Angeles County Democratic Club. It should have said the Los Angeles County Democratic Party. —

The measures may appear similar to the uninitiated, but they would greatly benefit different groups of pot businesses.

Yami Bolanos, who runs PureLife Alternative Wellness Center, is backing Proposition D, which would shrink the number of pot shops to about 130. Only dispensaries like Bolanos', which opened before the adoption of a failed 2007 city moratorium on new shops, would be allowed to continue operating.

At the City Hall rally and news conference, Bolanos accused some newer shops of catering to drug dealers by not requiring doctor's prescriptions and selling more than 8 ounces of marijuana per visit to customers, more than twice what her store allows.

"Who needs 8 ounces, unless you're going to break it up into dime bags and sell it in the street?" she said.

Proposition D is backed by the Los Angeles County Democratic Club and by a labor union that has organized workers at dozens of older dispensaries. The measure was placed on the ballot by the City Council to counter two measures that qualified through the initiative process.

One of those initiatives, Measure F, would place no limit on the number of pot shops but would require them to submit to city audits, test cannabis for toxins and keep a certain distance from schools, parks and other dispensaries. It is being pushed by a coalition of shops that opened after the 2007 moratorium. Like Proposition D, it would increase taxes on pot sales.

A third measure, Initiative Ordinance E, would permit only the older shops but would not raise taxes. It was put on the ballot by a group of older shops and the dispensary employees union, but that coalition has shifted its support to the council-backed Proposition D.

The measure with the most votes will win, but only if it receives more than 50% of the vote. If none of the three receives majority approval, they all fail.

With the election a month away, the competing camps are collecting campaign cash and stepping up attacks. An anti-Proposition D website warns that the initiative would create a monopoly for older shops and the rise of "pot superstores." By forcing existing dispensaries to close, "Proposition D encourages building massive marijuana drug centers that could greatly increase crime for nearby residents," the site says.

Grace Moore, who opened Grace Medical Marijuana Pharmacy in 2009, said she is fighting Proposition D because market forces, not government, should determine the number of dispensaries. "The good will succeed, and the places that are not so nice, people will not frequent," she said.

At her Pico Boulevard shop, customers are offered strains of pot like Purple Cush and Blue Dream, as well as "Yes on Measure F" wristbands.

Moore has been growing marijuana for decades. As a single mother living in West Virginia, she said, she used to trade her pot for hay. Her business has been successful, she says, because she grows cannabis without pesticides and offers a safe environment for patients. "We are an option for women and for truly ill people," she said.

But critics say the free-market model hasn't worked, pointing to heavy concentrations of pot shops in some parts of the city, including a stretch of Mid-City known as the "Green Mile."

Michael Larsen, a member of the Eagle Rock Neighborhood Council, fought to curb the glut of dispensaries in his community. He opposes all the pot measures. Measure F allows too many stores, he said, and the council-backed Proposition D doesn't ensure the safety of dispensaries or provide a mechanism for neighbors to complain about bad operators.

L.A. has struggled for years to regulate the location of pot shops against a backdrop of contradictory court rulings on cities' legal authority to regulate pot. The city is battling more than 60 lawsuits over its earlier attempts at regulation, and many predict new lawsuits are inevitable after the May election.

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