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L.A. marijuana dispensaries fall short in referendum signature drive, but say they'll seek extension

March 15, 2010 | 12:49 pm

Photo: Dan Halbert, on right, and volunteers and employees work on verifying signatures at the Rainforest Collective in Los Angeles. Credit: Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times

A group of Los Angeles medical marijuana dispensaries that hoped to persuade voters to reject the city's new ordinance has failed to collect enough signatures to force a referendum.

Dan Halbert, the operator of Rainforest Collective in Mar Vista and the primary organizer, said the collectives had gathered about 30,000 signatures, but fewer than 15,000 appear to be valid. The collectives need at least 27,425 signatures for the referendum to qualify.

But Halbert said he still plans to turn the petitions in to the city clerk Monday afternoon and would formally ask for an extension. Halbert said it took city officials 10 days to approve the form of the petition, cutting into the 30 days allowed for the petition drive.

"It's been an education process for everybody. Bottom line is nobody can do this in 20 days unless you have big money," he said. "It affects all of our rights as citizens of Los Angeles to stop something the City Council wants to do."

The city's medical marijuana ordinance, which will not take effect until the council adopts registration fees for dispensaries, would cap the number of stores at 70, but exempts those that registered with the city in 2007. City officials estimate that would allow no more than 128.

Halbert, who moved to Los Angeles from Phoenix to get into the business, is one of hundreds of operators who would be forced to close under the ordinance. Despite the threat to their businesses, many operators were wary about becoming involved in the political process, concerned about drawing the attention of the police and city enforcement inspectors.

Halbert, who said he spent between $20,000 and $30,000 on signature gathering, was discouraged that collectives did not rally around the petition drive until the final days.

"I'm disappointed in the process, and I'm disappointed in, obviously, the coalition," he said. "There were some players in it, but just not as many as needed."

Halbert said he did not expect the city to grant an extension and said he would be reviewing his legal options. "We're going to use that as more ammunition," he said.

The city already is fighting two lawsuits stemming from its attempts to clamp down on the number of medical marijuana dispensaries. One challenges the new ordinance and another takes on the moratorium adopted in 2007. A Superior Court judge has issued a preliminary ruling that found the ban was invalid because the City Council had illegally extended it.

-- John Hoeffel

Photo: Dan Halbert, on right, and volunteers and employees work on verifying signatures at the Rainforest Collective in Los Angeles. Credit: Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times

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