L.A. City Council Votes to Amend Medical Marijuana Ordinance

January 23, 2011 – The Los Angeles City Council, repeatedly warned that the city risked a return to the days when medical marijuana dispensaries were opening at an astonishing clip, voted Friday to amend its ordinance, altering key provisions that a judge declared unconstitutional last month.

The changes were forced on the council by the judge’s decision to issue an injunction that barred the city from enforcing those provisions that he concluded were illegal. He has since stayed his order, but it would take effect if the dispensaries that had asked for the ruling were able to post a bond.

Jane Usher, a special assistant city attorney, told the council that Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Anthony J. Mohr had made clear his injunction would leave the city with little power to shut down new dispensaries. “He’s put our feet to the fire,” she said.

Since the judge issued his decision, dispensaries have already boldly reopened. Usher said that it can take the city six months to two years to shut them down.

The council, with some members voting reluctantly, decided 12-0 to adopt the changes, a threshold that allows the revisions to become effective within about 10 days.

In the most significant change, the ordinance sets up a different process to decide which dispensaries to allow. A lottery will choose 100 dispensaries from those that can prove they were in existence on Sept. 14, 2007, the date the city’s moratorium on new stores became law.

The city’s attorneys and the council settled on that number after debating how many the city’s already short-handed departments could handle. The original ordinance would have allowed existing dispensaries that registered under the moratorium to apply to remain open.

Those dispensary operators objected strenuously, noting that a lottery could randomly eliminate some of the most law-abiding and best-run dispensaries. An estimated 135 dispensaries followed the city’s rules and are still in business. A lottery will eliminate a quarter of them and seems almost certain to draw more legal action from those that lose.

“I understand that this is not fair to many of the operators who are doing the right thing,” said Councilmember Ed Reyes, who led the effort to write the ordinance. But he urged the council to act, rather than return to lawlessness. “This lottery is what we can do now, as much as it hurts.”

By John Hoeffel.

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