By Greta Cobar

A Los Angeles City Council Ordinance on medical marijuana is set to take effect June 7 and to impose some of the toughest rules in the state. The city’s current 800 or so dispensaries will be reduced in number to 70, while in Venice twenty-some medical marijuana shops will have to close, as we will only be allowed to have one. The difficult-to-comprehend ordinance was approved by a vote of 9-3, with Bill Rosendahl, Jan Perry and Bernard C. Parks voting against it.

The 187 shops that were opened before the November 13, 2007 moratorium will be allowed to remain open as long as they are not located within 1000 feet of schools, parks, libraries, churches, and other so-called “sensitive use” areas. In addition, they cannot be located across the street or sharing a corner with a residentially zoned lot.

The ordinance states that when any of those 187 shops closes, it won’t be replaced until the number is reduced to 70, but it does not go any further to explain how and if any of the 187 dispensaries that opened before the 2007 moratorium will indeed be closed to reduce the number to 70.

As far as Venice is concerned, the 8 dispensaries that opened before the 2007 moratorium are Ironworks, The Farmacy, Marina Caregivers Cooperative, Venice Beach Care Center, California Alternative Caregivers, Nile Collective, Supplemental Organic Solutions and Herbalology. They will be allowed to remain open as long as they abide the 1000 foot location restrictions, but on the other hand the ordinance allows for only 1 dispensary in the city of Venice. How those 8 shops will become 1 is unclear at best.

It will be interesting to see if the city will indeed proceed to force hundreds of prosperous businesses to close in the middle of the great recession or if the lawlessness that dominated in the last few years will continue.

Despite the November 2007 moratorium over new dispensaries in Los Angeles, hundreds have opened since then under a hardship exemption included in the moratorium itself. And after the Obama administration announced this past year that it wouldn’t prosecute medical marijuana users, the number of dispensaries further boomed.

Meanwhile, all threats from the local as well as the federal government did not materialize. For example, in July 2007 the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) sent out letters notifying owners that they stand to lose their properties and face 20 years in prison for allowing their buildings to be used for “unlawfully distributing a controlled substance.” Three years later, no owner lost his property and nobody went to jail for allowing a dispensary to operate on his property.

Thus, the over 600 dispensaries throughout the city that received notices to close by June 7 are hoping that the law will not be put into effect this time, just as it wasn’t in the past. Four dispensaries asked for a temporary court order to stop Los Angeles from shutting them down come June 7, but their requests were denied.

On the other hand, the Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act of 2010, an initiative to legalize marijuana, will be on the California November ballot. If passed, it would allow adults 21 or older to possess, share and transport up to an ounce of marijuana for personal use and to grow up to 25 square feet of marijuana per residence. It would allow local governments, but not the state, to authorize the cultivation, transportation and sale of marijuana and to impose taxes in order to raise revenues.

A person would be able to buy marijuana without a card from the doctor and dispensaries would be able to operate for-profit, but this legalization initiative might not change much else, as the LA City Council will maintain control over the dispensaries much as it does now.

We know from the November 5, 2009 Venice Neighborhood Council meeting that when asked who supports legalizing marijuana, everyone in the packed room raised their hands. However, without cityhood we would not be able to keep our twenty-some dispensaries open or have much input into any other decisions regarding marijuana, either sold as medical marijuana or legalized.

However, most growers in Humboldt County fear legalizing marijuana because they fear their profits will shrink from taxes and competition. Corporate tobacco companies could move in and take over the business, causing prices to drop significantly.

As a matter of fact, Northern California marijuana growers have already experienced a significant drop in prices, as dispensaries are now paying $2000 for a pound, compared to just a few years ago, when they used to pay $4000 for that same pound. On the other hand, the dispensaries themselves continue to sell an eighth of an ounce for $50, which adds up to $6400 for a pound. This has actually forced people from up north to go back and sell on the street for a better profit. If marijuana laws, whether medical or fully legalized, go astray, marijuana business will be right back on the streets.

And while doctors are allowed to prescribe marijuana under the current state law, according to the federal government it continues to be illegal and classified as a Schedule I drug, one with “a high potential for abuse” and “no currently accepted medical use in treatment”, criminalizing the acts of prescribing, dispensing, and processing marijuana for any purpose. Thus marijuana cannot be grown for federally-sponsored research studies, which leaves the doctors prescribing it with only folk-tales to learn from, without any medical literature.

The American Medical Association, the nation’s largest physician association, has recently joined the Institute of Medicine and the American College of Physicians in calling for a review of marijuana as a Schedule I controlled substance. Re-classifying marijuana as a Schedule II drug would not only put it in a category other than heroin, but it would open the door to research into its benefits. Doctors are now prescribing it for children with autism, but the research on this as well as its other uses is minimal at best.

In 1986 the FDA and the DEA approved marijuana in pill form, called Marido. People did not like it, but why would the FDA and the DEA OK it in pill form, but not in its natural form? Well, because a pill can be trademarked and its profits controlled, while an herb that grows as a weed cannot.

However, marijuana is believed to be California’s largest cash crop. The California State Board of Equalization estimated the state could gain $1.3 billion a year in taxes and fees if marijuana were legalized. Let’s hope that legislators come up with common-sense, supply-and-demand oriented laws that we can all be happy with. Nobody wants to go back on the streets, depending on Mexican drug cartels supplying pesticide-ridden herb.

Just like in 1996 California led the nation to become the first state to approve medical marijuana, it will be the first state to have an initiative to legalize it on the November ballot. But whereas the medical marijuana dispensaries blossomed while laws were vague and not enforced, we need to have a better system in place for regulating legal marijuana.

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