A newly approved law regulating medical marijuana dispensaries in Los Angeles is likely to have some of the more profound effects of any section of the city on Westside facilities.
The City Council voted January 26th to approve the ordinance which establishes permanent regulations on the cultivation of marijuana for medical purposes and drastically reduces the number of dispensaries allowed to operate throughout the city.
The law limits collectives to at least 1,000 feet from schools, parks, religious institutions and other sensitive areas, as well as from other collectives. Collectives must also not be located on a lot adjacent to or across the street from residential areas under the new ordinance.
The law will not take effect until after it receives a signature from Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who is expected to sign the measure, says a spokesperson.
“The mayor will be signing this legislation because it puts the safety of our communities first by greatly reducing the number of dispensaries and creating a buffer zone around schools and places of worship, and is in compliance with state law,” said Sarah Hamilton, spokeswoman for the mayor. “The legislation isn’t perfect, but the mayor feels it is a step in the right direction and it’s time to focus our attention on other pressing issues facing our city.”
City leaders had sought to implement a permanent ordinance since adopting in 2007 an interim control ordinance, or temporary moratorium, on new medical marijuana dispensaries. During that time over 500 dispensaries are estimated to have been established throughout the city, bringing the total number in operation to between 800 and 1,000, according to the city attorney’s office.
City officials believed that many of the facilities had opened after applying for hardship exemptions which allow exceptions from the moratorium if an established hardship is found. The proliferation of such collectives has presented the risk of unlawful cultivation, sale or illegal use of marijuana for non-medical purposes, according to the city attorney’s office.
City officials have emphasized that the sale of marijuana remains illegal under state and federal law, and both City Attorney Carmen Trutanich and county District Attorney Steve Cooley have indicated that they intend to crack down on dispensaries that distribute medical marijuana for profit.
City attorneys say that the new regulations are in compliance with state law as they do not interfere with a patient’s right to use the drug for medical purposes. Jane Usher, city attorney spokeswoman, noted that the ordinance will allow the city to better regulate the distribution of the medicinal drug.
“It will give us an immediate additional tool by capping the number citywide and providing for a registration process,” Usher said.
The number of city collectives allowed to operate will be capped at 70 under the law. But the total that remain could be up to 140, as the measure says that collectives that previously registered under the temporary moratorium and moved once due to federal enforcement can register if they meet all other requirements.
Some medical marijuana advocates have said that the “arbitrary” cap on dispensaries and proximity restrictions from sensitive areas will undermine the law’s effectiveness.
“This is a bittersweet victory for medical marijuana patients in Los Angeles,” said Don Duncan, California director with Americans for Safe Access (ASA). “Although historic, the passage of medical marijuana regulations by the second largest city in the country has been tempered by restrictions that threaten to wipe out nearly all of the dispensaries in Los Angeles.”
The number of dispensaries allowed to stay in current locations has been a particular issue of concern for some on the Westside. Some news reports have indicated that as many as 25 stores in the Venice area were either distributing medical marijuana to collective members or had applied for a license to do so. According to City Councilman Bill Rosendahl’s office, only five of the registered 17 in his 11th District would remain with the law, including just one each in the Venice and Westchester-Playa del Rey areas.
Rosendahl, one of three council members to vote against the measure, called it unclear and said the 1,000-foot restriction will have a significant effect on the stores in his district.
“In my district this will dramatically impact the dispensaries that exist,” the councilman said. “This is going to make it difficult to access and in some cases, (patients) will need help to find out where to go. It’s unfortunate and I’m sad with what came out of the council.”
Some community members also spoke of how the greatly reduced number of collectives will make it challenging for people who need medical marijuana for treatment to acquire it.
“Quite clearly, those people who need to have access to marijuana to treat a medical condition are being harmed by this,” Venice Neighborhood Council member Marc Saltzberg said.
The Venice council had recommended in November that the city enforce restrictions similar to those of adult businesses, which limit them to 500 feet of schools and parks. The council additionally stated that it disagrees with the “overly-burdensome approach” of the city ordinance.
Some representatives of Venice collectives have also taken issue with the location requirements, saying that nearly all in the community will have to move to industrial areas.
“It will almost completely strip safe access from patients and force those left to industrial areas in the most blighted areas,” said Brennan Todd, manager, of the Venice Beach Care Center on Lincoln Boulevard. “To think that only 70 collectives can serve Los Angeles shows that the city is completely unaware of their constituency.”
Usher of the city attorney’s office said that the city will continue to provide access at a favorable rate compared to other large cities such as San Francisco and many other state municipalities.
Some Westside collective operators offered support for the new regulations, saying they will ensure that all dispensaries will follow the same guidelines regarding operation.
“I think the ordinance is probably been long overdue and it’s great because it sets a standard of operation for everybody,” said Ryan, a founder of the Beach Center Collective in Playa del Rey who wanted to be identified only by first name.
The Culver Boulevard collective is expected to have to relocate under the regulations after three years of operation, which will have an impact on its patients who live nearby, he said.
Another dispensary, the Ironworks Collective on Lincoln Boulevard in Venice, has self-imposed restrictions prior to the ordinance, such as closing at 8 p.m., using no advertising and not distributing to people under 21, says a volunteer, Dan, who preferred using only his first name.
“Any regulation is going to impact us, and whether it’s a positive or a negative has yet to be seen,” he said of the potential effect on his collective.
Rosendahl said he wants to have city attorneys explain the process of closing down those dispensaries that are impacted to ensure that it is done in a civilized manner.