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L.A.'s Latest Try at Regulating Pot: 'Limited Immunity' for Marijuana Shops

While Los Angeles awaits direction from either the state legislature or state Supreme Court, city officials continue to work on ways to put controls on how marijuana businesses would be allowed to operate.

A day after the Los Angeles City Planning Commission recommended that certain medical marijuana storefronts be granted “limited immunity” from enforcement, Special Assistant City Attorney Jane Usher said Friday that her office is still waiting for state authorities and the state’s Supreme Court to help resolve a key issue surrounding California’s highly ambiguous medical marijuana laws: Where would the dispensaries procure their marijuana?

The question points to a “serious, debilitating shortcoming in the state’s Compassionate Use Act,” Usher told Patch in an interview.

“A city cannot fix that deficiency because we’re preempted from doing so by state law," Usher said. "We can only enact where a medical marijuana business is established, located and how it operates.”

In an effort to provide some regulation to L.A.’s complicated and severely contested medical marijuana landscape, the planning commission, an advisory body that does not make policy decisions, voted 5-0 on Thursday to back the city’s so-called “Limited Immunity Ordinance” governing medical marijuana facilities, according to Charlie Rausch, a zoning administrator in the Department of City Planning. (Only five of the planning commission's members were present, Rausch said. The commission currently has eight members with one open seat.)

The proposed Limited Immunity Ordinance was recently crafted by the city attorney’s office in accordance with a plan proposed by Councilman Paul Koretz earlier this year. The planning commission’s recommendations will now go before the City Council’s Public Safety Committee as well as the Planning and Land Use Committee. The City Council, which will be able to make changes to the recommendations, is expected to eventually vote on the matter.

The proposed ordinance starts out by banning “medical marijuana businesses,” avoiding the term "dispensaries."

“The reason is there has been tremendous abuse of the term,” Usher said.

The ordinance then goes on to define what a medical marijuana “business” is. It does not include, among other groups, up to three qualified cannabis patients or primary caregivers collectively growing or processing their own marijuana in a residential dwelling; or hospices, licensed clinics and facilities where qualified patients get medical care of supportive services.

"We think this is the best way to go," Don Duncan, California director of Americans for Safe Access, a nationwide medical marijuana advocacy group, told the Los Angeles Daily News. "We would urge there be more time granted to relocate the clinics."

The proposed ordinance specifies that medical marijuana businesses will be granted limited immunity only if they meet a total of 15 conditions, Usher said.

Those conditions require that dispensaries:

• Be registered with the city’s so-called “Interim Control Ordinance” of 2007, which fixed at 182 the number of dispensaries in the city and placed a moratorium on the creation of new dispensaries.

• Be registered with the city’s so-called “Temporary Control Ordinance,” which went into effect in January 2010 but was amended in 2011 and has since expired.

• Be located within 1,000 feet of a variety of “sensitive uses,” such as schools, public parks and religious institutions, as well as 1,000 feet from each other.

• Pay any taxes owed to the city, besides agreeing to pay future taxes.

“Except for registration [issues], which we already know, the rest of the conditions will be up to the dispensaries,” Usher said, adding: “Are they going to be in compliance regarding their location and in compliance with city taxes?”

Of the 15 conditions, Usher said, one emphasizes that dispensaries that were closed following a law enforcement action, court order or settlement agreement would not qualify for limited immunity.

Further, Usher said, the Limited Immunity Ordinance also states that none of the dispensaries that are allowed to remain open will be protected from enforcement actions by the state or federal government.

Rick Coca, director of communications for Councilman Jose Huizar, called the Planning Commission's recommendation "an exercise in legal futility until the state legislature steps up and changes its flawed law and until the state Supreme Court rules."

Huizar helped prepare an ordinance, approved by the City Council in July, that would have banned marijuana dispensaries. However, after medical marijuana advocates successfully petitioned to put a referendum on the ballot calling for a repeal of the ban, the council rescinded the ordinance in October.

Usher said the Planning Commission will continue to work with the medical marijuana industry on the proposed ordinance's regulations and the City Attorney’s office will step in “if there are any legal clarification issues.” She said her office is already in touch with medical marijuana advocates regarding certain changes to language in the ordinance.

“I will go with what most clearly communicates the goal and intent of the ordinance,” Usher said. “We’re waiting to see what the City Council does.”

Christopher Thom December 01, 2012 at 08:25 PM
There's 350,000 medical marijuana patients in LA. Even if the 182 clinics meet the rules and allowed to stay open that's almost 2,000 patients per dispensary. There's a reason we have over 1,200 dispensaries. It's basic market demand capitalism. Closing dispensaries only grows the underground illegal sales --- meaning the city will have more crime and less tax revenue.
Warren Holden December 03, 2012 at 01:17 AM
Though common sense is anything but "common" these days; common sense dictates that a legal avenue to marijuana will decrease crime, increase taxable revenue and offer medical and psychological comfort to many seriously ill Ca. residents. The casual user has always and will will always find a way to score. Criminalizing recreational behavior has not and will not work, common sense should be made a mandatory component of any so called "complex problem".

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