Los Angeles cuts back on medical marijuana dispensaries

On Monday the city enacted an ordinance that shut down some 400 medical marijuana dispensaries, but the debate over their existence is far from over.

Adam Lau/AP
A sign taped to the front door of House of Kush, a medicial marijuana shop, indicates the dispensary is closed on Monday, in the Eagle Rock area of Los Angeles.

As a Los Angeles ordinance takes effect Monday, shuttering more than 400 medical marijuana dispensaries, proprietors are complying, but not without a promise to return.

From 2007 to 2009, the number of medical marijuana dispensaries grew from 183 to over 800. The new law caps their number at 70, and spreads them equally among all areas of the city.

Officials felt that too many had proliferated in the Venice Beach area and Hollywood. Moreover, some were close to schools, churches, or parks had brought complaints from neighbors for attracting gang and criminal elements.

“I just don’t think they should be here and I hope they’re gone soon,” says Monica Robek, mother of three, who feels that marijuana dispensaries, even for medical purposes, send the wrong message to her kids.

Under the new law, any dispensary that has been at its current location since before Sept. 14, 2007 may be eligible to register and operate if it complies with state laws and meets new population percentage requirements. And if the number of dispensaries ever falls below 70, a drawing will be held to fill the vacancy, provided its owner has no record of a felony in the past decade and is not on parole for sale of a controlled substance.

Marijuana reform activists say the law likely isn't the end of the line for L.A.'s medical marijuana dispensaries.

“History shows that crackdowns on medical marijuana are rarely successful,” says Dale Gieringer, California state coordinator for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). “Every time the government has acted to shut down clubs, even more have grown back in their place. It is doubtful whether the city will succeed in closing as many facilities as it intends.”

Many of the city's dispensaries could transform themselves into mobile delivery services, reorganize as branch offices, or “metastasize into nearby communities,” he says.

At least 64 dispensary owners have sued, asking for court orders to halt enforcement of the law.

The whole ordinance could be rendered moot if voters approve the Tax and Regulate Cannabis 2010 ballot initiative this November, which would make California the first state to approve marijuana use beyond medical purposes.


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