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First of two L.A. pot shop initiatives qualifies for May ballot

January 3, 2013 | 11:54 am
Pot dispensary initiative qualifies for ballot

The passionate debate over medical marijuana dispensaries in Los Angeles could bleed into this year’s mayoral race, with one initiative that would allow some pot shops to remain open qualifying Wednesday for the May ballot. 

A separate initiative that would allow a different set of dispensaries to remain is being vetted by city officials. If that measure’s supporters are found to have gathered the necessary signatures, it will also be put to a May vote.

The two initiatives come as the City Council struggles to craft a new policy regulating how medical marijuana can be distributed. Last fall, the council was pressured to overturn its own ban on storefront sales of medical pot after one group of dispensary activists gathered enough signatures to put a repeal of the law on the ballot in the March primary, when the mayor, city attorney and eight council seats will be up for grabs.

The flurry of new ballot measures, which would coincide with the May runoff election, highlights the new tactics of activists, some of whom have admitted to using the initiatives to pressure council members to pass a law that will allow some dispensaries to remain open.

But the competing measures also expose a major rift in the medical marijuana community.

The lines are drawn around the October 2007 date when lawmakers passed an Interim Control Ordinance. The dispensaries that registered with the city before that date are pushing for a ballot measure that would ban all pot shops except those that were established before 2007. The Committee to Protect Patients and Neighborhoods' initiative, which the City Clerk announced has gathered the required 41,138 signatures to qualify for the ballot, is also backed by the United Food and Commercial Workers union.

The clerk's certification sends the initiative to the council, which can adopt the ordinance as is, call a special election, or place the item on the May 21 ballot.

Backers of the competing measure, known as the Medical Marijuana Collectives Initiative Ordinance, have submitted signatures to the city, but their signatures have not yet been certified by the clerk. That initiative is supported by a broader group of medical marijuana backers, including those dispensaries that opened after 2007. It would establish city permits for pot shops and would allow any dispensaries that meet certain requirements -- including keeping a certain distance from schools and parks and maintaining limited hours -- to stay open. It would also raise taxes on medical marijuana sales by 20% to help pay for city regulation.

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-- Kate Linthicum at Los Angeles City Hall

twitter.com/katelinthicum

Photo: A dispensary on South Robertson near the corner of 24th Street. Credit: Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times

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