Competing plans cloud future of LA pot clubs


LOS ANGELES — The legal battleground around marijuana in California may have deep roots up north, but a fight is shaping up in Los Angeles, where two initiatives and an ordinance look to grab hold of regulation.

Los Angeles City Clerk June Lagmay announced Wednesday that proponents of a second initiative — which wouldn’t place a limit on the number of pot shops but would raise their taxes by 20 percent — have submitted enough signatures to initiate the verification process.

Lagmay also announced enough signatures submitted for an earlier initiative – a “limited immunity plan” that would bar the city from prosecuting some 100 pot dispensaries that opened before Sept., 2007 – were certified to send the plan on to City Council.

The two plans are at odds in how to regulate medical marijuana in California’s largest city. And, with a third option also on the table, medical marijuana’s future in Los Angeles remains clouded with uncertainty.

‘Limited immunity’ protects older shops

Yamileth Bolanos, president and founder of Greater Los Angeles Collective Alliance, a medical marijuana advocacy groups backing the limited immunity plan, told SFBay:

“Dispensaries are popping up like bad mushrooms on the lawn because there’s no law today and it’s not good for the patients or city. It’s creating a wild wild west atmosphere that it shouldn’t be.”

The Greater Los Angeles Collective Alliance, along with United Food and Commercial Workers Local 770 and Americans for Safe Access, were responsible for collecting enough signatures to put a referendum on the July city election ballot, after which the City Council voted 11-2 to repeal the total ban.

Now the three advocacy groups, together known as the Committee to Protect Patients and Neighborhoods, are pushing their initiative to bar the city from prosecuting about 100 cannabis stores that opened before Sept. 14, 2007, the date the city first tried to place a moratorium on the shops.

UFCW Local 770 vice president and director of organizing Rigo Valdez explained that the date is based on the case 420 Caregivers v. City of Los Angeles last summer, and why:

“It is the only court ruling that we know that has allowed for limiting of the number of dispensaries so far in the state of California.”

The City Clerk has prepared a report to submit to the City Council, which has until Jan. 30 to adopt the legislation, call a special election, or add it to the May 21 general election.

Meanwhile, the initiative’s proponents are working to tweak a similar ordinance by Councilman Paul Koretz that council members could vote on earlier than their initiative could go before voters in May.

The four specific modifications proponents of the immunity initiative seek are changing the proximity restrictions from 1,000 feet from all sensitive use areas to 1,000 feet from just schools and 600 feet from parks, libraries, youth centers and churches; adding a severability clause to prevent a challenge to one part of the law from affecting the entire legislation; removing a requirement that cannabis shops not border residential areas; and removing a requirement that shops could not have been closed by enforcement agencies.

Koretz’s planning deputy Christopher Koontz said the ordinance has been delayed due to the holidays and the City Attorney meeting with the limited immunity initiative proponents to mark up the ordinance’s language. Koontz said:

“Our hope has been to have it in Public Safety Committee the second week of January, but it will probably be by end of the month.”

Drop the limit, boost the tax

While limited immunity initiative proponents and Koretz’s office work on striking a compromise, proponents of the second initiative have a different agenda.

Beside the 20 percent tax increase on dispensaries, the second initiative doesn’t put a limit on the number of qualifying dispensaries allowed to operate. Aaron Green, spokesman for the proponents Angelinos for Safe Access, a collective of medical marijuana advocates, owners and patients, believes initiative would enable 100-150 pot shops to operate:

“It’s sort of a practical limit as opposed to a numerical limit. It is important to know that our initiative follows much of the same structure as the initiatives that have been adopted in places like San Francisco, Sacramento, Oakland, Denver, and Washington D.C.”

Angelinos for Safe Access believe the number of dispensaries that would qualify under the first initiative is closer to 40 given the Sept. 14, 2007 restriction, according to Green, who added:

“We would very much like to work together with the advocates of the other initiative because we think that our initiative achieves all of their goals and ensures safe and guaranteed access to medical marijuana to those who need it without providing for a monopolistic restriction on certain collectives.”

But Valdez, whose group is part of a committee to reform state medical marijuana law that includes UFCW Local 5 in Northern California, said he believes the second initiative would mean many more than the 100 dispensaries the first initiative would allow. His group’s overarching hope is that Koretz’s plan will provide safe access first.

Valdez said:

“We were the ones who lobbied city hall to make sure (the referendum repealing the total ban) didn’t go to the election and was dealt with at City Council, and we hope to do the same with our plan.”

Since 2010, the city has received four marijuana-related petitions, including the referendum and these two initiatives submitted last year, said City Clerk spokeswoman Kimberly Briggs.

Supporters of the second initiative should have the results of their signature review results by Jan. 15.

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