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Dispensary operators say L.A. marijuana ordinance will harm patients

January 26, 2010 |  1:02 pm

Medical marijuana dispensary advocates assailed the Los Angeles City Council's vote today to approve a medical marijuana ordinance, saying the measure was unworkable and would dramatically restrict access to patients who need the drug.

The council voted 9-3 to pass the long-awaited measure without discussion, but supporters of medical marijuana then streamed to the microphone during the time for public comment. "It's a disaster for patients," said James Shaw, the director of the Union of Medical Marijuana Patients.

City Council members, however, expressed relief that an ordinance should soon be in place, even if it may require some changes. "I think we did our best to interpret the state law the way it is written," said Councilman Ed Reyes, who oversaw much of the ordinance's drafting.

The ordinance will allow most dispensaries that registered with the city in 2007 to continue to operate, a number that may be around 150. But those stores will still have to comply with the location restrictions, including being at least 1,000 feet away from schools, parks and libraries.

Many operators said today that they will be unable to find suitable locations because the City Council also added restrictions to keep the stores from abutting or being across an alley from residential property. Operators also said that landlords, aware that there are very few buildings that can meet the tight location restrictions, are already jacking up rents.

Barry Kramer, who runs California Patients Alliance, a registered collective on Melrose Avenue, said that he looked for eight months for a location that was not near schools and other sensitive uses before he opened 2½ years ago. Because of the alley restriction, he said he will be forced to move. "The frustration is that we've tried to work so hard, 2½ years of working with everything that they've brought down," he said. "Now, all those good operators are going to be cast aside."

The ordinance does not take effect until the City Council approves fees that dispensaries will have to pay, but the operators that have to move, which is most of them, are already racing to find locations. "We're scrambling right now," Kramer said. "No, we have not found anything."

Neighborhood activists, who have been vastly outnumbered at every City Council meeting, urged the lawmakers to act quickly to begin to enforce the ordinance. Lisa Sarkin, chairwoman of the Studio City Neighborhood Council land-use board, noted that there were 13 dispensaries in the area. "I can't imagine how this could be necessary," she said.

An organization representing medical marijuana collectives that registered with the city is considering hiring a well-connected lobbyist to pressure the City Council to make changes and a lawyer to investigate whether there are grounds to sue.

Dispensary operators who did not register, many of whom opened last year, are exploring whether to sue the city or collect signatures to force a referendum on the ordinance.

"We are prepared to go forward and stop this ordinance," said Dan Lutz, who operates the Green Oasis dispensary. "I regret that we have to go this route."

-- John Hoeffel in City Hall

See related story, Los Angeles City Council approves medical marijuana ordinance that will shut down hundreds of dispensaries

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