Medical marijuana patients in Los Angeles will have to rush to dispensaries if they want to stock up on marijuana products.
The LA City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to ban all dispensaries, although patients and caretakers still can grow marijuana at home. When the vote was tallied after a full day of deliberation and public comment, a few members of the public stood up and shouted angrily at the city council, as police stood protectively in front of members.
Spokeswoman for Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Vicki Curry, told The Huffington Post that the mayor supports the ban and will sign it into law sometime next week. It goes into effect 30 days from when it is signed, which means by September, according to the city attorney's figures, 762 registered dispensaries and a couple hundred more unregistered facilities will be forced to close.
Councilman Jose Huizar, who introduced the measure, told HuffPost that the ban was necessary because of a proliferation of dispensaries that are in violation of the city's 2010 dispensary ordinance, including not being too close to each other, schools or libraries.
During the debate that preceded the vote, he said that because regulation hasn't worked, the city should ban all dispensaries until the state Supreme Court clarifies the legality of the shops. "We failed to [regulate] for the past five years. No matter what we try to do … to regulate it going forward… we will fail again," Huizar said. "The best course of action is … allowing three people or less to collectively cultivate marijuana -- that's what's allowed under state law."
Proponents of Huizar's ban spoke publicly before the vote, saying that the dispensaries are nuisances that attract crime and drive away business. They also expressed concern about the concentration of dispensaries in certain neighborhoods. One man said there are 15 dispensaries within a 1.2-mile radius in Eagle Rock; one woman said there are three dispensaries in two blocks in her neighborhood, including one next to a preschool and a church.
A mother complained that her children walk through marijuana smoke in front of their house and a nearby bakery, and that it sends a message to children that drugs are OK.
But opponents of the ban said growing marijuana at home is not feasible for most patients, who will be forced to turn to the illegal market. A representative of the United Food and Commercial Workers, which now includes dispensary workers, said that setting up a bare-minimum, one-light "grow tent" at home costs more than $5,000.
A filmmaker said he suffers from depression and anxiety, and needs medical marijuana "to keep me from losing my mind on every little detail of the day." Another medical marijuana patient came close to tears, saying, "You really don’t understand what it's like to be in our shoes… What it's like for us every morning to wake up and… plan your day over your pain issues."
A man with cerebral palsy said he cannot physically grow marijuana. "Please do not ban the only medication that lets me live comfortably," he said.
Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck, however, spoke in favor of the ban. There have been murders at the dispensaries, he said, expressing concern about the amount of cash exchanged, particularly at the larger stores. Addressing the concern that enforcing a dispensary ban could drain police resources, Beck said he believes "the vast majority" of the facilities would comply with the ban and that enforcement would be manageable.
Dispensaries have "popped up all over," said Councilman Joe Buscaino, adding that they "should not be more accessible than Sudafed."
Medical marijuana should be accessed at pharmacies, not profitable unregulated shops, and it does not make sense that there are only about 50 pharmacies in the city, in comparison to more than 700 dispensaries, he said.
In addition to Huizar's ban, the council also approved, 9-5, a request from Councilman Paul Koretz to draft a soft-ban ordinance that would allow 182 law-abiding dispensaries to stay open. It will take at least several weeks for Koretz's ordinance to be drafted by the city attorney, then sent back to committee and the council. Koretz's proposed soft ban directly contradicts Huizar's approved ban.
A representative from the city attorney's office noted that the council is "between a rock and a hard place" because there are conflicting court rulings on the legality of dispensaries. A November District Court of Appeal case out of Long Beach prohibits dispensaries, while a 2nd District Court of Appeal in California ruled earlier this month that cities cannot ban them.
The dispensary ban is sure to face legal challenges from dispensary proponents, who already have filed dozens of lawsuits against the city over various regulations and closures.
Check out the public's response to the ban on Twitter: