Medical marijuana patients in Los Angeles can exhale a sigh of relief. At least for now.
LA's marijuana dispensary ban, which was set to go into effect in one week, has been temporarily suspended after patients and supporters delivered 50,000 signatures to force a referendum on the ban, the city clerk's office told The Huffington Post Thursday.
The ban, which has the approval of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Police Chief Charlie Beck, intends to shut down about 1,000 marijuana dispensaries in the city, including those that have complied with the law. Instead of using dispensaries, groups of three or fewer marijuana patients would be allowed to grow marijuana in their homes.
“We understand and appreciate the need for strict rules and regulations regarding dispensaries. But the outright ban went too far, and will result in many sick and infirm patients suffering needlessly," Gary Carver, a medical marijuana user who suffers from glaucoma and was one of the petition's signatories, said in a statement. "What we need is a thoughtful policy that allows us to get our medicine and protects communities, not a shortsighted ban that causes us pain and thwarts the will of the people.”
The city clerk's office has 15 days to verify the signatures. If at least 27,425 signatures are verified, the City Council has 20 days to choose to either repeal the ban or to put it to the voters on the March 5, 2013 ballot.
Patients and supporters hope the ban will be repealed, but if it's put to a vote, they say they're confident Angelenos will support storefront access to medical marijuana.
Opponents of the ban say that most sick patients either do not have the ability, time or funds to grow medical-grade marijuana at home. At the initial City Council hearing in July, 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.
Councilman Jose Huizar, who proposed the ban, told HuffPost 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 schools, libraries or one another.
Proponents of the ban say the dispensaries are nuisances that attract crime and drive away business. Others complain that they have become so numerous that there are dozens within just a few blocks in some neighborhoods. In front of the council in July, one 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 okay.
Despite the petition, the City Council is moving forward with its plan to shut down the dispensaries. Last week, council members voted to ask the Drug Enforcement Agency for assistance in the operation.
Meanwhile, Councilman Paul Koretz is advocating a soft-ban that would allow 182 law-abiding dispensaries to stay open.
Check out the public's initial response to the ban on Twitter: