Los Angeles: Medical Marijuana Compromise Reached



Medical Marijuana Compromise Reached
Updated: Tuesday, 24 Nov 2009, 11:02 PM PST
Published : Tuesday, 24 Nov 2009, 8:36 PM PST

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John Schwada

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Posted by: Tony Spearman

Los Angeles - After a hearing that lasted seven hours, the City Council and City Attorney's office today reached a compromise on how to dispense medical marijuana to qualified patients without severely restricting access to the drug or violating state and federal laws, but agreement was still elusive on other matters.

City Council President Eric Garcetti helped break the deadlock by proposing banning medical marijuana sales while allowing collectives and dispensaries to receive "cash contributions, reimbursements and compensations for the actual expenses of the growth and provision of the collective cultivation... provided in compliance with state law."

"I think that is broad enough," said Chief Deputy City Attorney William Carter, who initially opposed letting qualified patients exchange cash for medical marijuana cultivated by someone other than their primary caregiver.

"It gives us that flexibility that we need," said Councilman Ed Reyes, who had proposed not-for-profit sales of medical marijuana so that qualified patients and their primary caregivers who could not grow pot on their own could still have access to it.

The City Council directed the City Attorney's Office to revise the proposed ordinance to reflect this and other amendments, and scheduled another hearing next week.

However, several questions remain unresolved, including whether to set a cap on medical marijuana dispensaries citywide.

The City Council heard proposals to limit the number of dispensaries from 70 to 200. The number may be determined, in part, by a proposal to set a distance of 1,000 feet between dispensaries; and 500 feet between dispensaries and schools, hospitals, public parks, public libraries, religious institutions, child care centers and rehab centers.

The City Council also debated -- but did not reach agreement -- on whether to give priority to the 186 medical marijuana dispensaries which opened before the city imposed a moratorium on such facilities in late 2007.

It also failed to make a decision on whether medical marijuana should be grown only at the dispensaries, or other locations.

Councilman Jose Huizar was adamant about making sure the marijuana was not coming from drug cartels.

"We have to control it and be able to know where this marijuana is coming from, otherwise it will be very easy for these collectives to get their marijuana from the black market," Huizar said.

Councilman Paul Koretz protested, noting some dispensaries are located in strip malls and do not have enough space for cultivating weed.

Also to be decided is how much medical marijuana should be allowed inside a dispensary at any given time.

The Los Angeles Police Department recommended having no more than five pounds of dried medical marijuana or 100 plants per dispensary, but several City Council members raised concerns that might be insufficient to meet demand.

In an attempt to ensure that dispensaries were not for-profit ventures, Reyes proposed having the City Controller or the Office of Finance audit their books on a regular basis.

Councilman Richard Alarcon also proposed setting a cap on how much compensation dispensaries can earn, based on protocols for non-profit organizations.

Once the ordinance is finalized, the City Council may decide to make it effective immediately.

That would give law enforcement officials the go-ahead to shut down most of the 1,000 pot shops which have popped up across the city over the last few years by exploiting a legal loophole.

Most of those pot shops are believed to be selling pot for recreational - not medical -- use.

An alternative proposal is to delay enforcement until the Chief Legislative Analyst's Office sets the fees that dispensaries must pay the city for inspecting their premises, monitoring their operations, and auditing their books.

Earlier today, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa weighed in on the medical marijuana debate, agreeing with City Attorney Carmen Trutanich, District Attorney Steve Cooley, and Attorney General Jerry Brown that "the sale of medical marijuana is illegal."

Villaraigosa told the Daily News he planned to make his position clear to the City Council. "Anything that comes to me (for signature) must be clear that these are legal operations."

"Any of the dispensaries that are illegal should be closed down," Villaraigosa said.


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