Future of medical marijuana dispensaries in Los Angeles are in voters’ hands as 3 measures compete for approval
LOS ANGELES, CA — Los Angeles politicians have struggled for more than five years to regulate medical marijuana, trying to balance the needs of the sick against some neighborhood concerns that medical marijuana dispensaries may attract crime.
Voters will head to the polls Tuesday to decide how Los Angeles should regulate medical marijuana dispensaries with three separate measures that seek to either limit the number of dispensaries or allow new ones to open and join an estimated several hundred others that currently operate.
Election Day in the nation’s second-largest city comes just two weeks after a pivotal state Supreme Court decision gave cities and counties the authority to ban dispensaries.
More than 200 local municipalities have bans, and some cities that were awaiting guidance from the state’s highest court have taken immediate action this month and begun shuttering clinics.
While some cities have been able to manage medical marijuana collectives and dispensaries, Los Angeles fumbled with the issue and dispensaries cropped up across the city as a result. Councilman Ed Reyes said Los Angeles has run into trouble where other cities such as Oakland haven’t because of the sheer size of LA and a movement that is more organized and litigious.
“The pie is so big here, so thick and rich, that we have many people making a run at it,” Reyes said. “Regardless of which measure you support, the city is going to have to focus on enforcement. I think as long as we don’t have enforcement, it’s just letters on paper.”
City councilors passed an ordinance in 2010 to cut the number of dispensaries from roughly 1,000 to 70. But numerous lawsuits were filed against the city by dispensaries and the ordinance was allowed to expire last year, leading to another surge of dispensaries opening in the city.
Proposition D would cap the number of collectives that opened prior to 2007 – about 135 – and raise taxes slightly; Proposition E also would do the same but raise no new taxes; Proposition F wouldn’t limit the number of dispensaries but put stringent controls such as audits and background checks on employees. It also raises taxes.
The proposition with the most votes wins, but only if it collects a majority. If none of the measures receives more than 50 percent, the issue could bounce back to the City Council.
Proposition E is essentially dead on arrival because its supporters are now backing Proposition D, which has been endorsed by several council members. Proposition D backers said the initiative meets the criteria of neighbors and the medical marijuana industry by limiting the number of clinics.
“There’s been absolutely no control, and that’s what has hurt the city,” said Brennan Thicke, who runs the Venice Beach Care Center. “At this point, voters need to finally decide this issue. There’s been an overwhelming belief in this city that medical marijuana should not go away.”
Those who support Proposition F say the medical marijuana industry should be an open market, and the measure does more to regulate the industry than its counterpart. They also note that if some of the 135 clinics under Proposition D later close, they won’t be replaced.
“There are bad apples in both groups,” said attorney David Welch, who has represented dispensaries in various lawsuits. “The idea that the (older) collectives are angels and everyone else are the devils is just plain wrong. They don’t want competition, and they want to control the supply and demand.”
Regardless of the election’s outcome, dispensary owners still are under the specter of the federal government, which maintains marijuana is illegal and has raided clinics, prosecuted owners and filed lawsuits against landlords.
The ban was initially approved in 2008, but hasn’t been enforced until now.
Garden Grove has at least 60 medical marijuana dispensaries, the highest concentration among Orange County cities. The city already banned pot shops in 2008, but a Supreme Court case put the ban on hold. A new ruling allows cities to ban dispensaries due to zoning ordinances. All dispensaries must be closed by Wednesday, or they will face major fines. Hetty Chang reports from Garden Grove for the NBC4 News at 5 p.m. on May 14, 2013.
City officials last week had letters hand-delivered to 63 medical marijuana shops. Garden Grove, at about 18 square miles, has the highest concentration of pot clinics in all of Orange County.
Opponents of the ban packed Tuesday night’s City Council meeting to protest the closures. However, no action related to medical marijuana shops was scheduled on the meeting agenda.
“I’m coming out if the closet as a medical marijuana patient,” patient Mary Lochen told the council. “You see there are a whole lot of us that are invisible to you.”
During public comment, resident Don Baird said the proliferation of medical marijuana shops in the city has “gotten out of hand.”
Herbal Organics on Chapman Avenue had planned on closing by 11 p.m. Tuesday to have enough time to clear out by the midnight deadline, according to store owner Shannon Luce. She said customers were asking a lot of questions.
“A lot of people are like ‘What are we going to do, where are we going to go, why do I have this rec from a doctor if i can’t use it?’” said Luce, who had planned on continuing to sell medical marijuana to her customers through home delivery.
Luce’s shop is equipped with surveillance cameras and a sophisticated camera system to ensure the safety of its customers.
“Do I want to have to go and send people the street?” Luce said.
Some medical marijuana users expressed frustration with the city, saying they’d have to find alternative sources for pot.
Terre Lowe who use the drug to treat arthritis pain and migraines, said they weren’t happy about having to find other alternatives.
“Like you would go to CVS, or someone else would go to CVS,” said Huntington Beach resident Terre Lowe, who uses marijana to treat pain associated with arthritis, migraines and insomnia.
“This is my pharmacy,” Lowe said.
But others were pleased with the city’s actions.
Robert Thill, whose office is next to both Herbal Organics and a day care, held back tears of happiness when he learned the stope would be closing.
“The kids need to be taken care of,” Thill said. “They don’t need to be smelling it in their playing yard. They’re 52 feet away from smoking dope.”
The Garden Grove City Council had voted to ban the shops in 2008, but held off on enforcing the ban until after the state Supreme Court affirmed cities’ rights on the issue earlier this year.
“Up until this current ruling, we had kind of waited to see what the decision was going to be before we moved forward,” said Ana Pulido, public information officer for the city.
Garden Grove police blame a 16 percent increase in crime over the last year, in part, on the marijuana dispensaries.
“We have a huge overconcentration of medical marijuana dispensaries,” Garden Grove police Sgt. Ed Leiva said.
GARDEN GROVE, Calif. (KTLA) — City officials in Garden Grove on Tuesday warned medical marijuana dispensaries to shut down by the end of the day or face hefty fines.
Pot shop ban takes effect in Garden Grove. (File photo)
There are about 60 pot collectives in Garden Grove — the highest concentration in Orange County
The city banned pot shops back in 2008, but a supreme court case put that ban on hold.
Then, earlier this month, the California Supreme Court ruled that cities did have the right to ban dispensaries using zoning ordinances.
The day after the ruling, Garden Grove sent out letters telling dispensary owners they had until May 14 to close their doors, or face a $1,000 per day fine.
There could also be criminal charges and civil lawsuits if the pot shops don’t comply.
Supporters of marijuana collectives said the ban would force people who use the drug medicinally to turn to the black market.
They wanted the city to find a way to regulate the dispensaries rather than banning them.
They planned to make their case at a city council meeting Tuesday night.
BERKELEY, CA — As U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder delivered a commencement speech Friday for UC Berkeley law school graduates, a plane flew overhead with a banner that read “Holder: End Rx Cannabis War. #Peace4Patients,” in protest against recent actions by the Justice Department (DOJ) in the Bay Area.
Outside the Hearst Greek Theater, where Holder gave his speech, medical marijuana advocates also handed out fake DOJ recruitment flyers, detailing how the Obama Administration is engaging in harmful tactics that are adversely affecting the lives of hundreds of thousands of patients in California.
“Patients will not stand idly by while Attorney General Holder’s Justice Department continues to attack our community and endanger the lives of Berkeley residents” said Caren Woodson, one of the leafletters outside the ceremony. “We’re here today to call attention to the misguided policies of the Obama Administration and to ensure that his ongoing campaign against medical marijuana is stopped in its tracks.” The protest today was organized by Americans for Safe Access and California NORML.
Holder’s speech comes only days after his Justice Department served an asset forfeiture lawsuiton the landlord of Berkeley Patients Group, one of the city’s oldest and most-respected medical marijuana dispensaries.
The lawsuit, which was filed on May 2nd, was strongly denounced at a press conference Wednesday by Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates and four City Council members.
“I think it’s time for the federal government, the president and the attorney general to wake up and stop these kinds of actions,” Mayor Bates said at the press conference. “Here is a group of people who have played by the rules and have had no problems in the city with the way they or their patients conduct themselves.”
A similar lawsuit was filed by U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag in July against the landlord of Oakland’s Harborside Health Center, the state’s largest dispensary. Despite Haag’s failure to identify any violations of state or local law, the Justice Department has vigorously pursued legal action against Harborside in an effort to permanently shut down the 7-year old facility.
Hundreds of state-law compliant medical marijuana dispensaries have been shut down over the past two years by Haag and the three other U.S. Attorneys for California, yet Haag’s boss, Attorney General Holder, still maintains his Justice Department is only targeting those in violation of state law.
Today’s action was also aimed at launching the Peace for Patients campaign, which calls on Congress to “end the war on patients.” The Peace for Patients campaign has begun as a petition drive to help put pressure on Congress, but will also include a broader effort this summer to use social media and grassroots meetings with legislators in order to help change federal policy.
There are three rival measures. To win, a measure must get more yes than no votes. But if more than one reaches that level of support, the one with the highest total of yes votes wins. If no votes outweigh the positives for all three measures, nothing changes — we continue in the current limbo.
SACRAMENTO, CA — In a ruling that will leave California’s patchwork approach to medical marijuana dispensary regulation in place, the state Supreme Court ruled Monday that local governments can ban dispensaries from operating within their jurisdictions. For patients, that means access to medical marijuana at dispensaries will depend on the political currents in their city or county.
The decision likely means that cities and counties that had been holding off on banning dispensaries will now take steps to do so. It will also increase pressure on the state legislature to come up with a means of statewide medical marijuana regulation, something it is working on right now.
The case was City of Riverside v. Inland Empire Patients Health and Wellness Center, Inc., in which Inland Empire sued the city after Riverside using its zoning power to declare that dispensaries were nuisances and ordered them shut down. Inland Empire went to court to block the city from forcing it to close.
The decision was eagerly—and anxiously—awaited by all sides. Cases on local bans had been percolating through the state court system for several years, with state appeals courts splitting on the issue. An appeals court had earlier sided with the city of Riverside, but a trial court last summer held that Riverside County could not ban dispensaries, and an appeals court in Southern California had struck down Los Angeles County’s ban on dispensaries.
The move by the city of Riverside was part of a broader counter-offensive against the proliferation of dispensaries after the Obama administration signaled in 2009 that it would take a largely hands-off approach. According to the medical marijuana defense group Americans for Safe Access, more than 200 cities or counties in the state have since moved to ban dispensaries. That move toward local bans has since slowed, in part because of uncertainty over their legality and in part because the federal offensive since the Obama administration shifted gears in the fall of 2011 has driven hundreds of dispensaries out of business.
Patient and industry advocates had argued that allowing localities to ban dispensaries ran counter to the intent of the state’s voter-approved medical marijuana law. The law called for making medical marijuana accessible to people with doctors’ recommendations for its use. But the state high court sided with the localities.
“The issue in this case is whether California‘s medical marijuana statutes preempt a local ban on facilities that distribute medical marijuana. We conclude they do not,” wrote Justice Marvin Baxter for a unanimous court. “The CUA and the MMP [state medical marijuana laws] do not expressly or impliedly preempt Riverside’s zoning provisions declaring a medical marijuana dispensary, as therein defined, to be a prohibited use, and a public nuisance, anywhere within the city limits.”
“While the California Supreme Court ruling ignores the needs of thousands of patients across the state, it simply maintains the status quo,” said Joe Elford, chief counsel with Americans for Safe Access, which filed an amicus ‘friend of the court’ brief in the case. “Notably, the high court deferred to the state legislature to establish a clearer regulatory system for the distribution of medical marijuana, which advocates and state officials are currently working on.”
“There is nothing surprising about this; it affirms the status quo,” said Dale Gieringer, long-time head of California NORML. “I’ve been following the court cases and reading the state constitution, and it seems pretty clear that local governments have broad authority under California law.”
“Today’s decision allowing localities to ban will likely lead to reduced patient access in California unless the state finally steps up to provide regulatory oversight and guidance,” said Tamar Todd, senior staff attorney for the Drug Policy Alliance. “The good news though is that this problem is fixable. It is time for the state legislature to enact state-wide medical marijuana oversight and regulation that both protects patient access and eases the burden on localities to deal with this issue on their own. Localities will stop enacting bans once the state has stepped up and assumed its responsibility to regulate.”
“We’re hoping that we can fix this by having some sort of state regulation system where people have access wherever they live in the state, if not by local dispensaries, then at least by some sort of delivery service,” Gieringer said. “I think they’re trying very hard to do something this year. Remember, last year, the Assembly passed a regulation bill and the Senate came very close, and now we have the leader of the state Senate supporting the same concept, so I think the prospects are pretty good for action.”
The statewide medical marijuana regulation bills this year are Assembly Bill 473, sponsored by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco), and Senate Bill 439, sponsored by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento). Both bills have passed their first committee votes and are supported by a broad coalition of patients, dispensaries, and law enforcement groups.
But until and unless statewide regulation is passed in Sacramento, the battle over patient access to dispensaries is now going to be fought in city council chambers and county supervisor meeting rooms in cities and counties across the state. That is going to mean differential access to medical marijuana depending on the political complexion of the localities where patients reside.
The California Supreme Court ruled Monday that municipalities possess the legal authority to prohibit the establishment of medical cannabis dispensaries.
The unanimous ruling upheld a 4th District Court of Appeals opinion (City of Riverside v. Inland Empire Patients’ Health and Wellness Center, Inc.) which held that local zoning measures banning the establishment of brick-and-mortar facilities that engage in the distribution of cannabis to state-authorized persons are not preempted by state law.
Other lower courts had ruled against such local bans, arguing that cities can’t use zoning laws to bar activity legal under state law.
It is estimated that some 200 California cities presently impose moratoriums on medicinal cannabis facilities. At least 50 municipalities have enacted local regulations licensing dispensaries.
Opined the Court:
“We have consistently maintained that the CUA (the California Compassionate Use Act aka Proposition 215) and the MMP (the Medical Marijuana program Act) are but incremental steps toward freer access to medical marijuana, and the scope of these statutes is limited and circumscribed. They merely declare that the conduct they describe cannot lead to arrest or conviction, or be abated as a nuisance, as violations of enumerated provisions of the Health and Safety Code. Nothing in the CUA or the MMP expressly or impliedly limits the inherent authority of a local jurisdiction, by its own ordinances, to regulate the use of its land, including the authority to provide that facilities for the distribution of medical marijuana will not be permitted to operate within its borders.”
Although language included in Proposition 215 explicitly called for the state government “to implement a plan for the safe and affordable distribution of marijuana to all patients in medical need of marijuana,” to date, lawmakers have failed to enact any specific statewide regulations regarding the retail production and distribution of cannabis to those patients authorized to consume it.
Commenting on the ruling, California NORML Coordinator Dale Gieringer said, “The court essentially affirmed the status quo. Local governments may choose to allow or limit dispensaries as they please. The unfortunate result of this decision is to leave many needy patients without legal access to medical marijuana in their communities, thereby promoting illegal black market suppliers. It is time for the state and federal governments to step up to the plate and fulfill the mandate of Prop 215 to implement a system of ‘safe and affordable’ access for all patients in medical need.”
Legislation is presently pending in both the California Assembly (AB 473) and Senate (SB 439) to impose statewide regulations governing the dispensing of marijuana produced for medical purposes.
Full text of the California Supreme Court’s opinion is available online here.
SACRAMENTO, CA — The California Supreme Court ruled today in the case City of Riverside v. Inland Empire Patients Health and Wellness Center that local governments may ban the distribution of medical marijuana and are not preempted by state law by doing so.
However, the court also recognized the legality of dispensaries, more than 1,000 of which currently exist and operate throughout the state. More than 50 localities in California officially regulate the distribution of medical marijuana, while nearly 200 cities ban the activity outright. Notably, the court emphasized that, “nothing prevents future efforts by the Legislature, or by the People, to adopt a different approach.”
“While the California Supreme Court ruling ignores the needs of thousands of patients across the state, it simply maintains the status quo,” said Joe Elford, Chief Counsel with Americans for Safe Access, the country’s leading medical marijuana advocacy group, which filed an amicus ‘friend of the court’ brief in the Riverside case. “Notably, the High Court deferred to the state legislature to establish a clearer regulatory system for the distribution of medical marijuana, which advocates and state officials are currently working on.”
Proposition 215, passed by California voters in 1996, encouraged the state and federal governments to adopt a distribution plan, however that never happened. In 2003, the California legislature adopted the Medical Marijuana Program Act (MMPA), which addressed the issue of distribution, but left much of the authority to local governments.
Concurrent to the California Supreme Court decision in the Riverside case is a renewed effort by advocates and elected officials to seek medical marijuana reforms in Sacramento. CRMM is hosting a lobby day today, during which scores of advocates will meet with their state legislators to urge passage of pending medical marijuana regulatory bills such as SB 439, introduced by State Senate President Pro-Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) and Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), and AB 473, introduced by Assembly member Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco).
Mayors from San Diego, San Francisco, Oakland, and Berkeley are urging the legislature to ensure that patients have a safe and legal means to obtain their medication. San Diego Mayor Bob Filner “urge[s] the Governor’s office and the Legislature to craft sensible medical cannabis guidelines, to provide clarity to local governments, and finally to implement the will of a majority of Californians who believe in compassionate use,” a sentiment echoed in the other mayoral letters.
Oral arguments occurred in February in the Riverside case, which is one of at least six similar appellate cases before the High Court, including County of Los Angeles v. Alternative Medicinal Cannabis Collective, 420 Caregivers v. City of Los Angeles, City of Lake Forest v. Evergreen Holistic Collective, City of Temecula v. Cooperative Patients Services, Inc., and People v. G3 Holistic. Last July, ASA filed an amicus ‘friend of the court’ brief in the Riverside case on behalf of patients and against local bans.
Despite the outcome of the Riverside case, research has shown that well-regulated dispensaries decrease crime in surrounding neighborhoods, while providing a safe and legal means for patients to obtain their medical marijuana. “Patients should not be pushed into dark alleys in order to obtain a medicine that has been deemed legal by the voters of California,” said Don Duncan, ASA’s California Policy Director, “The ball is in the legislature’s court to establish statewide regulations that both meet the needs of patients and keep communities safe.”
SACRAMENTO – The Senate today passed legislation authored by Senator Mark Leno that reforms California’s drug sentencing laws for simple possession. SB 649 allows counties to significantly reduce incarceration costs by giving prosecutors the flexibility to charge low-level, non-violent drug offenses as misdemeanors instead of felonies. The bill also gives judges discretion to deem a non-violent drug possession offense to be either a misdemeanor or felony (known as a wobbler) after consideration of the offense and the defendant’s record. SB 649, the Local Control in Sentencing Act, does not apply to anyone involved in selling, manufacturing or possessing drugs for sale, and will result in millions of dollars in annual savings for local governments, help alleviate overcrowding in county jails, ease pressure on California’s court system and keep communities safer.
“One of the best ways to promote lower crime rates is to provide low-level offenders with the rehabilitation they need to successfully reenter their communities,” said Senator Leno, D-San Francisco. “However, our current laws do just the opposite. We give non-violent drug offenders long terms, offer them no treatment while they’re incarcerated, and then release them back into the community with few job prospects or opportunities to receive an education. SB 649 gives local governments the flexibility to choose reduced penalties so that they can reinvest in proven alternatives that benefit minor offenders and reserve limited jail space for serious criminals.”
SB 649 will significantly reduce jail spending and allow local governments to dedicate resources to probation, drug treatment and mental health services that have proven most effective in reducing crime. It will also help law enforcement rededicate resources to more serious offenders. The Legislative Analyst’s Office estimates reducing penalties for drug possession will save counties about $159 million annually.
The bill is co-sponsored by the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union), Drug Policy Alliance, NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), California Public Defenders Association, William C. Velasquez Institute, Californians for Safety and Justice and Friends Committee on Legislation.
“We commend the Senate for approving this bill at a time when lasting, sustainable and common sense solutions to California’s ongoing incarceration crisis are so needed,” said Margaret Dooley-Sammuli, senior criminal justice and drug policy advocate for the ACLU of California. “This bill will help counties break the state’s addiction to incarceration by enabling them to invest their limited resources in the kinds of community-based treatment, rehabilitation and education programs proven to reduce recidivism, prevent crime and increase public safety.”
Across the country, 13 states, the District of Columbia, and the federal government treat drug possession as a misdemeanor. Drug crime is not higher in those states. A statewide poll conducted by Tulchin Research late last year showed that an overwhelming majority of Californians support this type of drug sentencing reform, with 75% of Californians favoring investment in prevention and alternatives to jail for non-violent offenders. In addition, 62% of Californians agree that the penalty for possessing a small amount of illegal drugs for personal use should be reduced to a misdemeanor.
“With our prisons and jails overcrowded with non-violent drug offenders – primarily people of color and women, everything should be on the table,” said Lynne Lyman, state director for the Drug Policy Alliance. “SB 649 is a sensible reform that will give counties the flexibility they need to implement Realignment and reduce recidivism.”
SB 649 will be heard next in the Assembly.
For media inquiries, please contact Ali Bay at (916) 651-4011 or email@example.com.
By David Downs
We received word Wednesday that seven medical marijuana dispensaries permitted by the City of San Francisco are being investigated by the Drug Enforcement Administration. In Sept. 2012, D.E.A. agent David White requested from San Francisco the public records of: Ketama Collective; Igzactly 420; 1944 Ocean Collective; The Hemp Center; Mr. Purple Skunk; The Apothecarium; and Bernal Heights Collective.
White requested each dispensary’s business license and application, health permit and application, ownership information, yearly statements/forms (i.e., not for profit, affirmation of not crossing state lines, etc.). White is a Special Agent with the Drug Enforcement Administration Financial Investigative Team in the San Francisco Field Division.
Drug Enforcement Administration
This week, news broke that the D.E.A. is trying to force the closure of at least one of the targeted dispensaries, The Hemp Center. The Hemp Center’s landlord is being threatened with 40 years prison, property forfeiture, and asset seizure for renting office space to The Hemp Center, sources say. At least four landlords in San Jose received similar letters Friday.
San Francisco has permitted about 15 dispensaries. There are perhaps one hundred dispensaries open in San Jose, where citizens passed marijuana sales tax Measure U in 2010. California legalized marijuana for qualified patients, caregivers, and collectives in 1996 and 2003. Marijuana has been federally illegal since 1937, when bureaucrats in Washington D.C. started a war on marijuana based on racism and misinformation.
In 2009, President Obama said prosecuting state-legal medical cannabis patients should not be a priority of the Department of Justice. In 2011, the Department of Justice clarified that marijuana businesses were still a priority – regardless if they comply with state law.
In October 2011, Haag and three other US Attorneys declared war on California’s estimated $1.3 billion medical marijuana industry, threatening hundreds of landlords with forfeiture. Hundreds of dispensaries across the state moved or closed, including several beloved S.F. clubs like The Vapor Room – which is delivery-only – and Medithrive.
Castro District dispensary The Apothecarium could be shut down by Washington D.C. officials (via Yelp)
Last year, California Gov. Jerry Brown denounced the crackdown, saying California didn’t need “federal gendarmes” interfering with lawful tax-paying businesses.
In January, Assemblyman Tom Ammiano told a San Francisco crowd that Haag had “gone rogue.” He called the landlord threats “drone strikes”, and added “I’m sorry a house fell on her sister,” alluding to the wicked witch in The Wizard of Oz.
Last week, Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsomcalled for decriminalizing, regulating, and taxing California’s decades-old, multi-billion dollar marijuana industry.
The latest polls show almost two out of three Americans agree that federal authorities should leave state-legal marijuana alone. Almost three out of four Americans agree the estimated $7.6 billion federal war on pot each year costs more than it is worth.
The new threats this week follow a federal threats against all dispensaries open in Santa Ana, CA. last week, as well as the raid of a San Diego dispensary who had an operating agreement with the City of San Diego. The DEA also threatened 11 medical marijuana clubs in Seattle.
The California chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) denounced the threats as yet another indication of the bankruptcy of federal marijuana policy.
“Despite the sequester, Newtown, and the Boston bombing, the Obama administration still insists in meddling in medical marijuana issues that properly belong to local authorities,” stated Cal NORML director Dale Gieringer.
More news as we get it.