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Medical marijuana advocates file lawsuit challenging L.A. ordinance [Updated]

March 2, 2010 | 10:52 am

http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/.a/6a00d8341c630a53ef0120a686382b970c-600wiMedical marijuana advocates upped the ante Tuesday in the legal battle over Los Angeles’ pot dispensaries by suing the city, claiming the ordinance that takes effect later this month is so restrictive it will cause even law-abiding businesses to shut down.

Americans for Safe Access, the nation’s main medical marijuana advocacy nonprofit, filed the lawsuit with the Venice Beach Care Center and the PureLife Alternative Wellness Center, two dispensaries that have operated in Los Angeles since 2006 -- before the city's moratorium on the centers took effect.

The 11-page suit filed in Los Angeles Superior Court says the sweeping marijuana ordinance passed by the City Council in January and signed into law by the mayor Feb. 3 “severely restricts access to medical marijuana by effectively forcing plaintiffs, as well as the vast majority of collectives in the City, to close their doors.”

The suit alleges the city ordinance violates state law, and it seeks a court injunction and restraining order to stop the measure from being enforced. In the suit, dispensary operators object to the “onerous restrictions” of the law that is scheduled to take effect March 14, such as a rule that gives them only seven days to relocate to 1,000 feet away from schools, parks and places of worship but does not provide maps to show where they are allowed under the law.

"We want to work with the city to comply with its regulations, but such unreasonable requirements make compliance impossible," Yamileth Bolanos, operator of the PureLife Alternative Wellness Center, said in a statement.

The city attorney’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment. [Updated at 11:23 a.m.: An official with the city attorney's office said he had not reviewed the lawsuit and could not comment on specifics, but he noted its filing could be premature because the ordinance has not yet taken effect.

“We'll be prepared to respond in the court,” said William Carter, the city attorney’s chief deputy. “Regardless of this lawsuit, the city attorney's office will continue to enforce existing local and state law. This lawsuit does not affect our long-standing and ongoing enforcement efforts."]

The city prosecutor's office filed three lawsuits last month seeking court injunctions to force Organica in the Venice area and two Holistic Caregivers stores in South Los Angeles to stop all sales.

Los Angeles City Atty. Carmen Trutanich has said that state law authorizes collectives only to grow marijuana and recover their actual costs, not to sell it.

Voters passed the state's medical marijuana initiative in 1996, and the Legislature adopted a law to expand access in 2003, but the courts still have not ruled directly on whether collectives can sell marijuana to their members.

Americans for Safe Access threatened to sue the city last week if it did not drop the Organica/Holistic Caregivers lawsuits, calling it part of a crackdown that goes beyond the scope of the new ordinance.

Kris Hermes, spokesman for the advocacy group, said the lawsuit filed Tuesday takes aim at the new ordinance, not the city attorney’s prosecutions.

--Tony Barboza

Photo credit: Los Angeles Times

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