L.A. City Council Ends Ban on Medical Pot Shops, Expects Fed Crackdown

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

With a March referendum on pot shops bearing straight ahead and a federal crackdown closing in the rear view mirror, the Los Angeles City Council slammed on the brakes and ended its short-lived pronounced ban on medical marijuana dispensaries.

The ban, itself, never actually took place. Medical marijuana advocates gathered 50,000 signatures to put its repeal on the March ballot, triggering suspension of the ban. Pot dispensaries would have been joined on the ballot by mayoral and council races.

Members of the council expected the U.S. Attorneys office to follow up on last week’s legal action taken against 71 dispensaries in Los Angeles County, although some were more excited at the prospect than others. The Los Angeles Times reported that council members—who voted 14-0 to pass the ban in July and 11-2 to end the ban on Tuesday—“say they are hoping that a new federal crackdown on L.A. dispensaries may accomplish what they hoped to achieve with their ban.”

At least one councilman, Ed Reyes, expressed less hope than resignation. “What weighs heavy in my mind is that no matter what we do, the federal government will still come in and shut them down,” the Associated Press reported.

Marijuana is illegal under federal law, while medical marijuana has been legal in California since 1996. The federal government expressed little interest in the issue until October of last year—just about the time “Weed Wars” debuted on Discovery Channel. The four-part series extolled the virtues of Oakland’s Harborside Health Center, the largest dispensary on the West Coast.

The IRS hit Harborside with a $2.5 million bill just after “Weed Wars” shooting ended last year, just before the U.S. Attorneys launched a series of raids and legal actions against dispensaries up and down the state. In July, U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag began legal action to seize the Oakland and San Jose Harborside Health Center outlets.                  

Los Angeles has more than 750 registered collectives, but amid the confusion that reigns there could be another 200 operating. The city’s so-called “gentle ban” would have closed storefront medical marijuana dispensaries, but allowed patients and their caregivers to continue growing pot. Medical pot advocates considered that a virtual ban.

More than 175 cities and 20 counties in the state have banned pot shops, according to the advocacy group Americans for Safe Access.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

Los Angeles City Council Rescinds Ban on Medical Marijuana Dispensaries (by Rick Orlov, San Gabriel Valley Tribune)

LA City Council Votes to Repeal Pot Dispensary Ban (by Greg Risling, Associated Press)

L.A. City Council Votes 14-0 to Ban Medical Marijuana Shops (by Kate Linthicum, Los Angeles Times)

Feds Move to Close Harborside Health Center, California's Biggest Marijuana Dispensary (by Chris Roberts, SF Weekly)

Oakland Gets a Reality TV Close Up: “Weed Wars” (by Zusha Elinson, The Bay Citizen)

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