Friday, February 19, 2010

Los Angeles Says No to Medical Marijuana Dispensaries

Legalization of marijuana in California began in 1976 with the passage of the Moscone Act, introducing the change of possession charges of less than one ounce to a misdemeanor, no jail time and a $100 fine. The Compassionate Use Act was later passed to allow for medical marijuana use and regulatory ID cards to verify one's qualifications. This legislation paved the way for collectives, non-profit dispensaries that cultivate and sell marijuana for medicinal purposes.

After more than 2 years of debate, the Los Angeles City Council approved an ordinance that limits the total number of medical marijuana dispensaries within its city limits to 70. Formerly one of the most relaxed environments for medical marijuana use, the new ordinance implements restrictive zoning measures that will govern where the establishments can be located.

Zoning requirements will require that dispensaries operate at least 1,000 feet from schools, parks, libraries and other dispensaries. They will also be prohibited from turning a profit and be required to
maintain detailed records while submitting to independent audits on an annual basis.

Hundreds of dispensaries within Los Angeles will be forced to close due to their locations not meeting the new zoning requirements, leaving approximately 150 legal operations in business. Still well
over the 70 unit cap.

The new rules also limit hours of operation to between 10 a.m. and 8 p.m. Those running dispensaries can operate no more than one location. Patients and caregivers, meanwhile, can retain membership in only one marijuana collective.

To take effect, the measures must be signed into law by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Although a spokesperson for the Mayor declined to say if he plans to sign the 17-page ordinance, Villaraigosa has voiced his support for laws limiting the number of dispensaries as well the enforcement of “buffer zones.” Once the Mayor signs the ordinance, the Council will need to approve a fee for the dispensaries to cover expenses related to monitoring their activities and enforcing the new ordinance.

Medical marijuana advocates, including a number of those who operate dispensaries, have vowed to fight the new measures in court.

However, just to make the scenario a bit more interesting, the California Assembly for Public Safety Committee passed "Assembly Bill 390," which proposes that the legalization and regulation of marijuana be structured similar to governmental regulation of alcohol. If the bill passes the full state assembly, California will become the first state to fully legalize marijuana use.

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