Venice has been no stranger to the effect of having no permanent regulations in place on medical marijuana dispensaries in the City of Los Angeles.

The city attorney’s office is currently presenting its proposed draft ordinance establishing permanent regulations on the cultivation of marijuana for medical purposes. In 2007 the city adopted an interim control ordinance, a temporary moratorium on new medical marijuana dispensaries, as it worked to develop a permanent ordinance but over 500 dispensaries or collectives are estimated to have been established throughout the city during that time.

City officials argue that many of the dispensaries have opened after applying for hardship exemptions which allow exceptions from the moratorium if an established hardship is found. The proliferation of such facilities throughout the city has presented the risk of unlawful cultivation, sale or illegal use of marijuana for non-medical purposes, according to the city attorney’s office.

Some news reports have indicated that an estimated 25 stores in Venice are either distributing medical marijuana to registered members of the collectives or have applied for a license to do so. The number of dispensaries believed to be currently operating in Los Angeles is estimated between 800 and 1,000, city attorney spokeswoman Jane Usher said.

Both City Attorney Carmen Trutanich and Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley have indicated that they intend to crack down on dispensaries that distribute medical marijunana for profit.

With the city in the process of proposing its draft ordinance, the Venice Neighborhood Council organized a town hall meeting Thursday, November 5th to allow community members to offer input on how they feel city dispensaries should be regulated. Council members noted that the discussion was “timely” because city officials are currently reviewing the law and it enabled residents to give recommendations on the facilities.

“It is likely that what we say at the town hall will influence the city’s direction on medical marijuana,” council President Mike Newhouse, who moderated the meeting, said prior to the event.

More than 100 people came out to the meeting, which included Usher of the city attorney’s office and representatives of City Councilman Bill Rosendahl. Audience members addressed a variety of issues, such as specific ordinance regulations, the number of dispensaries, how close they should be to each other and how close they should be to schools and religious institutions.

When Newhouse asked the audience who opposed legalizing marijuana, not one person raised a hand. Although it was apparent that most were in favor of the right to cultivate marijuana for medical use, many differed on the way stores should operate.

“Within those folks there was a lot of diversity on how (the dispensaries) should operate,” Newhouse said.

Arturo Pina, Venice deputy for Rosendahl, told the town hall audience that the councilman has been a strong advocate for a patient’s right to access medical marijuana but he also wants to ensure that dispensaries are regulated, taxed and subject to certain planning guidelines.

Usher acknowledged that crafting the proposed ordinance has been a challenge for city attorneys and they encourage public comments.

“It’s been quite a predicament to try to write it correctly,” Usher told the meeting attendees.

Some representatives of collectives said they want to ensure that the city considers the concerns of patients who need to access marijuana for medical ailments.

“We see an attempt to drive medical marijuana away from the patients and in the ground,” said James Shaw of Venice. “We’re looking out for the interests of all medical marijuana patients.”

When asked if there should be a limit on the number of facilities operating, some people said that the market will determine how many are able to remain. Resident Jim Smith said the number of dispensaries should be chosen based on how many patients there are in the community.

Others took issue with the proposed provision that medical marijuana should be cultivated on site, saying that it poses a security risk or the city doesn’t “make people go to Bakersfield for their tomatoes.”

Some also expressed opposition to a provision limiting dispensaries at least 1,000 feet from each other and school sites, arguing that would leave few places to operate a facility. Venice Neighborhood Council Vice President Linda Lucks suggested that as a model, the city consider the ordinance regulating strip clubs and adult bookstores to at least 500 feet of schools and parks.

The neighborhood council plans to incorporate the town hall comments into a position of the advisory board on the city’s draft ordinance at its meeting Tuesday, November 17th. The council will also consider a proposed community impact statement that approves of dispensary regulations but disagrees with the “overly burdensome approach” of the draft ordinance.

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