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'Gentle ban' on pot shops sought by L.A. City Atty. Trutanich

January 13, 2012 |  2:49 pm

In this Feb. 1, 2011 file photo, medical marijuana clone plants are shown at a medical marijuana dispensary in Oakland. Credit: AP Photo / Jeff ChiuThe Los Angeles city attorney is calling on the City Council to implement a “gentle ban” on marijuana dispensaries that would forbid businesses from selling the drug –- but still allow patients who are seriously ill and their caregivers to cultivate it.

At a council committee meeting on Friday, City Atty. Carmen Trutanich and several of his top lawyers recommended that officials revoke the current ordinance regulating marijuana dispensaries, which calls for a lottery to choose which dispensaries to allow.

In October, the 2nd District Court of Appeal in Los Angeles ruled that Long Beach, which carried out a lottery similar to the one proposed in L.A., violated federal law on the grounds that the city was, in essence, sanctioning the distribution of an illegal drug.

Jane Usher, a special assistant city attorney, told the Public Safety Committee that the decision, which Long Beach has appealed to the state Supreme Court, limits what municipalities can do to control dispensaries.

“They left very, very little for cities to lawfully do,” she said.

Usher said L.A.'s ordinance has been challenged in more than 60 lawsuits filed by marijuana dispensaries and patients, and has cost the city millions of dollars to fight. She warned that if the city does not revoke the ordinance “it is simply a manner of time, from a risk management point of view, before we have a ruling against the city of Los Angeles on the same grounds.”

Under Trutanich's proposal, the city would not prosecute ill patients or their caregivers who were growing marijuana, as long as there was no third party involved and no money was changing hands. The proposal will come before the full council eventually, but not before it is first heard in the Planning and Land Use Management Committee.

One medical marijuana dispensary worker decried the proposal and said she and others have been trying for years to get the city to adopt a workable ordinance.

Sarah Armstrong, a medical marijuana advocate who helps run a dispensary in Reseda, said hundreds of “rogue” dispensaries that have opened up in recent years have given a bad rap to older, more responsible operations that want to follow the law and cooperate with the city. At the meeting on Friday, police officers and other city officials gave testimony about crime surrounding some dispensaries.

“We’re tired of being tarred with the same brush,” she said.

She dismissed the proposed prohibition as politically motivated -- Trutanich is considering a run for Los Angeles County district attorney -- and said medical marijuana activists were prepared to resort to a voter referendum to reaffirm the right to use dispensaries.

Armstrong said “there’s no such thing as a gentle ban,” since many primary caregivers don't have the time to grow marijuana.


Court overturns Long Beach pot law

San Diego pot dispensaries can be evicted, judge rules

Feds escalate efforts to close pot shops across California

-- Kate Linthicum at Los Angeles City Hall

Photo: Medical marijuana clone plants. Credit: Jeff Chiu / Associated Press