In May, Los Angeles voters approved a measure that capped the number of medical marijuana dispensaries in the city to the 134 that had opened before 2007 and force the shut-down of the hundreds that followed.
Since then the city has released its list of authorized marijuana dispensaries and is now sending letters to all the others ordering them to close up shop or face arrest and possible criminal charges. Sandy Banks at the Los Angeles Times was on hand for a going-out-of-business sale at one dispensary:
Cannabis-laced brownies, chocolate bars and peanut butter cups were half-price. Sleep-inducing indica buds sold out quickly. And discounted sativa was moving well among patients whose medical needs must have called for a buzz.
I was on hand as Tampa Wellness packed up to shut down, disappointing customers who had trickled in last weekend from as far as Palmdale to get medical marijuana from this small dispensary in a Reseda strip mall.
The closure was sudden and not by choice. A note taped to the shop's blacked-out front window Sunday made that point: "Due to recent elections regarding E, D and F, Tampa Wellness has been forced to shut its doors by the city attorney. We have appreciated the support of our clients and look forward to new beginnings."
If the cap seems weirdly arbitrary, of course it is. Why should it matter when a pot dispensary opened to determine if it's legal? But those early shops are established enough to have employees start unionizing, and so they get special treatment. The protectionism of the new regulations is not referenced in Banks' column. Rather, as with most reporting, the entire conflict has been cast in terms of the evil demon known as "profit." Banks writes, "Los Angeles has a new crop of enlightened officials and support from an electorate that's sensitive to patients' needs, but sick of the proliferation of barely disguised drug dealing." Mind you, at the very beginning of her column she points out a person who drove 50 miles to get medical marijuana from Tampa Wellness, one of the dispensaries ordered to shut down. Nobody in Southern California actually needs to drive 50 miles just to score some weed. And, of course, there is absolutely no evidence to say these initial pot dispensaries are somehow automatically more patient-minded than newer shops. It's pure protectionism.
The city has already shown signs that its bureaucracy can't actually handle this – I'm not going to call it a "problem" because it assumes that one exists. Bluntly put, the city is probably going to screw it up anyway:
Assistant City Atty. Asha Greenberg called it a courtesy letter, notifying businesses that opened after 2007 that "the passage of Prop D [makes] their continued operation illegal."
Another collective owner, Frank Sheftel also got a letter, even though his cozy Toluca Lake Collective (TLC) in North Hollywood has been in business since 2006.
His shop, which has a food pantry and offers hospice care, wound up in the illegal group because of a paperwork glitch, Sheftel said. "One list says I'm [approved]; another list says I'm not."
Other dispensaries are simply going to ignore the letters, figuring the city probably isn't able to actually enforce the rules:
I spent Saturday driving around the west San Fernando Valley, stopping at every green cross I saw. At a few shops, employees told me the letters have scared their landlords into forcing them to move out. But others said they planned to stick around; they have seen these letters before.
"That's the problem," Sheftel said. "The city's never done anything. They just keep sending letters."
But now that the city has passed a ballot measure passed and the state Supreme Court has given municipalities clearance to regulate, there aren't any more questions about what the city can legally do. Even further, now that the city has formal regulations, no doubt the Drug Enforcement Agency will be more than happy to contribute their agents to step up the regular raids they've been doing all along.