Los Angeles reins in medical marijuana shops

The Los Angeles City Council passed an ordinance Tuesday capping the number of medical marijuana dispensaries and placing restrictions on where they could be located.

By , Staff writer

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    A pedestrian walks past a marijuana leaf neon sign advertising a medical marijuana provider along a street in the Sherman Oaks section of Los Angeles, Calif. on Tuesday.
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The Los Angeles City Council approved an ordinance Tuesday that will close most of the medical marijuana dispensaries set up in the city in recent years.

More than 600 pot dispensaries have opened in the past 10 months. But the new law, which passed 9-3, caps the number of permitted dispensaries at 70 and provides strict rules for where they can operate.

Medical marijuana shops must now be at least 1,000 feet from churches, libraries, schools, playgrounds and other “sensitive” areas.

Advocates of medical marijuana criticized the new restrictions for limiting patient access to medicine, but welcomed the ordinance as a sign that medical pot dispensaries were here to stay.

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“The L.A. ordinance marks an important advance for the legalization of medical marijuana in the nation's second largest city,” says Dale Gieringer, state coordinator for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).

While the ordinance is not a model for other states, since it is tailored to the peculiarities of California law, "it is an example of how the popular demand for medical marijuana can be legally accommodated by local governments,” Mr. Gieringer adds.

The ordinance is good in some ways, says Richard Lee, president of Oaksterdam University, founded in 2007 to provide training for the cannabis industry. “Cannabis should be regulated and taxed, and will generate jobs and income like other commodities,” he says.

But he and others also criticized some of the bill's provisions, chief among them the restriction on where the outlets may be located, which some say will force patients to travel long distances to get their medicine.

The restrictions are “onerous and will likely force the closure of almost all the dispensaries in Los Angeles,” says Kris Hermes, spokesman for Americans for Safe Access. His group is currently considering litigation over those restrictions.

“Unfortunately, the city dragged its heels too long in bringing up this ordinance, then rushed to pass it without adequate study,” adds Gieringer.

The new rules are in response to the flood of new dispensaries that have opened in Los Angeles in the past few years, and which have elicited a host of complaints by residents in many neighborhoods. California is one of 14 states to have legalized medical pot.

The dispensaries have "had it easy since 2005, and that is now coming to an end,” David Berger, a special assistant to the city attorney's office, which drafted the ordinance, told the Associated Press. He added that while relocating is a “hardship,” the council’s rules “will be fair and equitable for everyone.”

The ordinance also limits outlets' operating hours to between 10 a.m. and 8 p.m., imposes certain security measures and requires them to operate as nonprofit collectives.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa must approve the ordinance before it can take effect.

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