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Medical marijuana groups threaten to sue if L.A. bans sales

November 16, 2009 |  8:53 am

Two medical marijuana groups are threatening to sue the city of Los Angeles if the City Council passes an ordinance that bans the sale of medical marijuana. Two council committees are meeting today to try to finish drafting an ordinance that contains the controversial provision.

Dispensary operators have consistently said they are uncertain they could stay open with such a restriction. Most collectives, which are required to be not-for-profit, sell marijuana to their members, but they consider it a donation to reimburse their costs.

The prohibition on sales was written by the city attorney’s office. In a lengthy analysis of state law and court decisions, City Atty. Carmen Trutanich concluded that over-the-counter sales of medical marijuana are not allowed. Instead, he said, collectives are shielded from prosecution only when they are growing it.

Both medical marijuana organizations, the Union of Medical Marijuana Patients and Americans for Safe Access, take issue with Trutanich’s view, saying he has misinterpreted the law and the court decisions.

The Union of Medical Marijuana Patients, a Los Angeles-based group, released its own 23-page analysis over the weekend.

“We show that Trutanich's entire case against sales is severely flawed, based on an extremely strained interpretation of the law and the plain meaning of the statute, and backed up by cherry-picked case law,” said James Shaw, the organization's director.

Americans for Safe Access, a national organization that has been involved in many major medical marijuana legal cases, also threatened to sue.

“The city attorney has consistently argued that medical marijuana sales are illegal,” said Joe Elford, the group’s chief counsel. “Neither the Los Angeles city attorney nor the City Council has the right to ban activity that is protected under state law.”

-- John Hoeffel

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