Anne Alvarez

Medical Marijuana Dispensaries’ Future Up in Smoke

By Anne Alvarez and Greta Cobar

On July 24, L.A. City council members voted unanimously to ban medical marijuana dispensaries citywide. The ordinance did not initially receive a unanimous vote, as Councilperson Paul Koretz (who backed an opposing plan, which would have allowed up to 182 dispensaries that existed prior to 2007) voted against it. However, he changed his vote after council members agreed to advance his proposed plan.

The ban is set to take effect 30 days after Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa signs the bill into law.

The council also voted to instruct city staff to draw up a separate ordinance that would allow 182 dispensaries to remain open. Officials said that proposal, which would grant immunity to shops that existed before the 2007 moratorium on new dispensaries, could be back to the council for consideration in three months.

This new ordinance is similar to one passed two years ago, which was supposed to shutter hundreds of pot dispensaries while capping the number in operation at 70. That ordinance was never enforced, and instead of hundreds of collectives being shut down, in actuality, more opened.

All previous similar ordinances were not enforced, and if history is any indication, this one will be no different. Chances are medical marijuana dispensaries will continue to flourish unabated this time as well. The cost of shutting down successful businesses would not profit anyone, including our police force. Patients would suffer the most, as they would have to travel longer distances to the nearest shop, and fewer shops would most likely result in higher prices.

Bill Rosendahl, 11th District councilperson, who has been an outspoken supporter of medical cannabis, recently admitted to being a medical marijuana patient. He was unable to cast a vote on the July 24 ordinance due to a back injury. However, he posted this statement on his Facebook page: “I support the use of medical marijuana and oppose a total ban on dispensaries in the city. I also believe we need smart regulation to prevent a proliferation throughout the city and to keep dispensaries away from schools and other sensitive uses. I would have voted against the ban, and supported the proposal which will grandfather in some of the 182 of the first generation of dispensaries.”

This decision by our elected city officials has many citizens outraged, including those in attendance, who shouted: “You don’t care about the people!” It is a slap in the face to the thousands of patients that are dependent on medical marijuana for the relief of chronic pain, insomnia, anxiety, depression, migraines, glaucoma, nausea, asthma, hepatitis, fibromyalgia, multiple-sclerosis and anorexia, to name a few. Not to mention the financial strain this will put on thousands of people who are currently employed at the estimated 800 dispensaries city-wide. Thousands of jobs would be lost in the middle of the great recession while the economy is crumbling, with layoffs and foreclosures on the rise. Venice itself is home to over 20 dispensaries, each employing an average of ten people. More than half of those stores are slated to close under the new ordinance.

Council members cited an inability to control the hundreds of medical pot shops that have spread across Los Angeles over the past few years. Nor have they considered that pot is California’s biggest cash crop, responsible for $14 billion a year in sales, dwarfing the state’s second largest agricultural commodity, dairy, which brings in $7.3 billion a year, according to USDA statistics. Clearly there would be no reason for our city to be in financial distress if marijuana collectives where regulated properly. The city council should focus on is a better regulatory system, which could be a huge source of revenue.

If you would like to voice your opinion against the medical marijuana ban, contact the following elected officials: Bill Rosendahl at 310-575-8461 or councilman.rosendahl@lacity.org; Paul Koretz at 310-289-0353; Jerry Brown at 916-445-2841

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