Medical Marijuana Faces Rollback in L.A.

January 19, 2010 – LOS ANGELES—After months of wrangling, the city council tentatively passed an ordinance to regulate the hundreds of medical marijuana dispensaries that have popped up here in the absence of municipal restrictions.

The new law, which is expected to get final approval next week, would sharply limit the number of dispensaries to no more than about 137, with the aim of eventually getting the number down to 70. The city has no exact count for how many dispensaries are operating currently, but several hundred are estimated to be exist.

Use of marijuana by qualified patients for medical purposes has been legal in California since a 1996 voter-passed initiative. However, implementing that law around the state has led to numerous controversies and a number of court battles. Los Angeles, where the absence of clear municipal guidelines allowed dispensaries to mushroom, has been the epicenter of the debate.

Critics, including law-enforcement officials, contend that proliferation of dispensaries here has contributed to crime and other problems in neighborhoods. They argue that many of the dispensaries are nothing more than illegal drug-selling operations hiding behind the 1996 initiative. Advocates of the dispensaries counter that the vast majority of operators are law-abiding citizens providing a valuable service to people in need. Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley, who doesn’t answer to the city council, has said he would move criminally against dispensaries he felt were violating state law.

Besides shrinking the number of allowed dispensaries, the new Los Angeles city ordinance puts in some tight location restrictions. The dispensaries will be required to be minimum distances from residential areas and locations such as churches and schools. Councilman Ed Reyes, who has been a leader at the council on the marijuana dispensary issue, said the rules would tend to force remaining operations into industrial zones. Mr. Reyes, who had proposed less restrictive location requirements, said that for “folks truly in need it will be harder to get medicine.”

Mr. Reyes and others involved in the issue say they hardly expect the passage of the ordinance to be the end of debate. Asked if he expected legal challenges from dispensary operators and others, Mr. Reyes replied, “In a big way.” By John R. Emshwiller. Source.

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