Los Angeles City Councilman Jose Huizar Wednesday urged his colleagues to repeal the city's medical marijuana ordinance and replace it with a total ban on pot dispensaries after nearly four years of efforts to craft regulations that would allow the booming industry to exist in Los Angeles while reining it in.
Don Duncan, a prominent medical marijuana activist, reacted to Huizar's motion by describing it as a "worst-case scenario" that would drive users into the arms of pot-selling "gangsters."
Huizar, citing new uncertainty over the city's right to regulate pot shops, wants to repeal city laws limiting their number and locations until courts settle the issue. His motion asks the state Supreme Court to weigh in.
"We currently have an unenforceable ordinance," Huizar said. "If we do nothing, we let it go as it is. ... We will see a proliferation of dispensaries throughout the city of Los Angeles, and that's something we would not want."
The City Attorney's Office estimates there are more than 300 marijuana dispensaries currently operating in the city, down from more than 800 in 2007.
"Our neighborhoods continue to complain daily about the disruption and public safety issues presented by medical marijuana businesses operating in the city," Huizar's motion says. "Yet, implementation of the city's comprehensive medical marijuana regulatory effort, which balances public safety concerns with compassionate access for seriously ill patients, is thwarted by the Pack decision," he wrote, referring to a case in Long Beach.
Huizar's effort comes at the same time the Obama administration is putting pressure on pot shops across the state. After early signs that the Obama administration planned not to crack down on medical marijuana as a crime, four U.S. attorneys in California they were stepping up efforts to shut down for-profit dispensaries. To show they were serious, at the same time, the feds and charged six people connected with a previous shop at the same location with drug trafficking.
A ruling in October by California's 2nd District Court of Appeal struck down attempts by Long Beach to require marijuana collectives to register with that city and pay fees. The court said 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.
Though California voters approved the use of medical marijuana in 1996 by passing Proposition 215, an appeals court in Riverside ruled this month that cities have the right to ban dispensaries.
Huizar's motion calls for the city to reaffirm its support for Proposition 215 and medical patients' rights to grow and consume their own cannabis with a doctor's recommendation.
The ruling in the Pack v. City of Long Beach case forced the city's hand, said Rick Coca, Huizar's director of communications.
Huizar said his motion tries to balance the needs of cancer and AIDS patients and others who truly need medical marijuana for health reasons and protecting neighborhoods from the proliferation of medical marijuana dispensaries.
"I personally believe that patients should have access to medical marijuana," Huizar said. "It was a very tough decision to make, but I think it is one that is needed."
Huizar expects strong opposition to the plan, including from some of his council colleagues.
Don Duncan, California director of Americans for Safe Access, which supports the use of medical marijuana, called the proposal "a disaster" for patients in Los Angeles.
"It's a worst-case scenario," Duncan said. "It's particularly disturbing because the City Council has been on the record saying that they're going to protect medical cannabis. This seems like an about-face and a betrayal."
He added: "This is just going to force patients to buy medical cannabis from gangsters or other black-market sources."
Huizar's effort is the second in two months to overturn the city's medical marijuana ordinance. City Council members Bernard Parks and Jan Perry last month proposed phasing out the ordinance.
The issue heads to two council committees before it can be taken up by the entire council.
If approved, the city would prioritize closing dispensaries within 600 feet of schools, according to Chief Deputy City Attorney William Carter.