The City Council today diverted a plan that would ban medical marijuana dispensaries but relax enforcement of rule-abiding pot shops and allow some to stay open.
The council voted in closed session to send a motion by Councilman Paul Koretz back to two council committees, though it had already been fast-tracked through the committee process.
Instead, the council agreed to give precedence to a plan by City Councilman Jose Huizar to ban dispensaries but allow for cultivation and direct distribution of cannabis by licensed caregivers or patients, dubbed a "gentle ban" by the City Attorney's Office.
The City Council agreed several weeks ago during a closed-door discussion to advance the "gentle ban" supported by Huizar, who called Koretz's motion "an aggressive attempt to undo the direction that we were going."
"I'm concerned should we continue to entertain all these motions, be bogged down, we're going to go backwards in terms of the progress that we've had. We just gotta close the deal on the city's position on this," Huizar said.
Koretz, however, called Huizar's plan a "vicious, heartless ban that would close all dispensaries and force the seriously ill and suffering patients to buy their medical marijuana on the black market if they're not able, which most would not be, to grow it in their homes."
Read more about how medical marijuana shops have affected the North Hollywood area:
Koretz said his plan aims to reduce the number of dispensaries to about 100 by placing strict restrictions on where they could operate, the hours they could be open, and requirements for tight security.
There are between 300 and 1,000 dispensaries in the city. An exact number is nearly impossible to know, because shops open illegally all the time, according to city officials.
City officials have been working for years to regulate dispensaries and limit their number to close to 100. Early attempts led to an explosion in the number of dispensaries trying to establish before the city placed a cap on the total number of pot shops.
The city's effort to allow some dispensaries was thwarted by a ruling last October by California's 2nd District Court of Appeal, which struck down attempts by Long Beach to require marijuana collectives to register with the city and pay fees.
The court ruled that cities may pass laws restricting the rights of pot shops to operate, but regulations affirming the right for dispensaries to exist violate federal law, under which marijuana is listed as an illegal drug banned for all purposes.
Huizar said he is also concerned the city may be complicit in supporting the black market, "since we don't know where these dispensaries get their marijuana and we're allowing them to exist. It's ridiculous."
Meanwhile, the California Supreme Court agreed today to hear a case about whether cities can use their zoning codes to prohibit dispensaries. The decision makes a lower court's ruling in favor of a Lake Forest medical marijuana collective moot until the California Supreme Court rules, allowing the City Attorney's Office to resume prosecuting illegal dispensaries after a temporary hiatus.