Activists say they can force referendum on L.A. pot shop ban
The ordinance banning storefront sales of medical cannabis could be suspended as soon as Wednesday, when medical marijuana activists say they will turn in 50,000 voter signatures to force a ballot referendum next year to repeal the ban. That is nearly twice the 27,400 names required by city rules for a ballot measure.
If the signatures are submitted, the ordinance will be temporarily suspended, according to election officials in the city clerk's office. The names will then be verified against voter registration information. If they are found to be valid, the ban will be further suspended until voters get a chance to decide whether to keep it in place.
The vote would share the ballot with the mayoral primary contest, adding a controversial issue into the mix of the campaign season. But the dispensary activists behind the ballot measure effort say they are hoping that the referendum can be avoided.
Councilman Paul Koretz, one of the medical cannabis community's staunchest allies, is pushing for a new law that would allow 100 or so of the city's oldest and most established dispensaries to remain open.
"The city needs a small number of well-regulated and patient-centered dispensaries," he said Tuesday. Without it, he said, "the city will be stuck with no rules and no protections again."
Los Angeles officials have struggled for years to come up with a workable dispensary policy, thanks to ever-changing court precedents as to what cities can do to regulate distribution of medical marijuana. The city is battling more than 100 lawsuits over its earlier attempts to regulate dispensaries, according to officials in the office of City Atty. Carmen Trutanich.
The ban passed by the council last month with support from Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Police Chief Charlie Beck prohibits the sale of marijuana but allows groups of three or fewer to cultivate and share the drug.
Activists say the ban violates a state law guaranteeing patients safe access to medical marijuana because most people aren't able to grow medical-grade pot. That claim was the basis of a lawsuit filed against the city this month by a medical marijuana trade association that represents patients, dispensaries and growers.
The referendum effort has been backed by other groups, including a newly formed labor union of dispensary workers. The groups are planning a news conference on the issue Wednesday morning -- and then submit their signatures to the city.
-- Kate Linthicum at Los Angeles City Hall
Photo: A pedestrian walks toward the entrance of a clinic offering medical marijuana cards in Los Angeles in July, one day after the Los Angeles City Council's unanimous vote to ban all marijuana dispenseries. Credit: Frederic J. Brown / AFP / GettyImages