On Tuesday the Los Angeles City Council finally passed its long-awaited ordinance regulating medical marijuana dispensaries. For something that was in the works for almost five years, it sounds like a surprisingly slapdash effort. In a city that has somewhere between 500 and 1,000 dispensaries (depending on whose estimate you accept), the new ordinance imposes a "cap" of 70, but not really: The Los Angeles Times notes that it "makes an exception for those that registered with the city clerk in 2007 [when the city imposed an unenforced and widely ignored moratorium] and remain in their original locations or moved just once," and "city officials believe there are about 150 such dispensaries."
Then again, the ordinance's highly restrictive location rules, which apply to existing as well as future operations, may ultimately determine the total number of dispensaries. They cannot be within 1,000 feet of each other or of various "sensitive uses," which include schools, parks, libraries, and places of worship. Worse, "in a last-minute addition, the City Council also restricted them from operating adjacent to or across a street or alley from residential properties." That requirement "eliminates most commercial streets, such as Melrose Avenue and Pico and Ventura boulevards, where alleys separate stores from homes." The upshot, according to dispensary operators, is that they will have few location options outside of industrial zones.
It seems the council members, like the legislators who decree drug-free, gun-free, and sex-offender-free zones, could not be bothered to consult a map and figure out the practical implications of these arbitrary rules. Not only are they inviting litigation; they are blithely interfering with the lives of patients who use marijuana to relieve the symptoms of serious illnesses (and who under the new ordinance will have to pick one dispensary and stick with it). Why should they have to trek out to an industrial area to get their medicine? For that matter, why should they have to wait until 10 a.m. or be deprived of a refill because they arrive after 8 p.m., just because those are the opening and closing times arbitrarily dictated by the city? The council would never dream of imposing such restrictions on pharmacies. For that matter, strip clubs and sex shops are more accessible than the dispensaries will be under these rules. Leaving aside the absurd conceit that the city council can somehow determine the "right" number of dispensaries, the burden on patients is hard to justify in light of state laws that recognize their right to use marijuana as a medicine. To the extent that neighbors have legitimate complaints about noise or other spillover effects from dispensaries, they can be addressed without this kind of hamhanded crackdown.
Meanwhile, City Attorney Carmen Trutanich continues to maintain that selling medical marijuana is illegal, which would make all of the dispensaries criminal enterprises. Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley takes a similar view and plans to keep prosecuting dispensary operators.
Brian Doherty noted the imminence of the ordinance last week.