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L.A. City Council acts to curb marijuana dispensaries

June 9, 2009 |  2:25 pm

Potgraphic Faced with the rapid expansion of medical marijuana dispensaries across Los Angeles, the City Council voted this afternoon to close a loophole in the moratorium that had inadvertently prevented city officials from taking legal steps to close those that have opened since the ban. 

The action, which comes months after city officials became aware of the glitch, means that the city attorney’s office will be able to file criminal or civil complaints against operators who fail to follow city orders to shut down. It will be at least a week before the council takes a final vote.

“We know that time is passing. We’ll close the loopholes, plug these floodgates,” said Councilman Ed Reyes, chairman of the committee that is developing an ordinance that will govern how the city controls the distribution of medical marijuana. “We’re taking very strong steps today.”

The action was proposed by Councilman Jose Huizar after he received complaints from residents of Eagle Rock, where numerous dispensaries have opened after the moratorium was approved in 2007. He said that that people were “putting up these fly-by-night operations knowing full well they could make a quick buck while they can operate under this loophole.”

The hearing drew a raucous crowd of neighborhood activists, who asked the council to support the measure to clamp down on dispensaries, and medical marijuana activists and patients, who urged the council not to hinder access to a drug that has been shown to effectively treat pain and other ailments.

The moratorium included a provision that allowed dispensaries to file hardship exemption applications asking the council for permission to operate. But the City Council has never acted on any of them. The city attorney’s office last year indicated that it would be difficult to take legal action to shut down any dispensary that had a request for an exemption pending before the City Council. The council’s action today will eliminate the hardship exemption.

It quickly became known in the medical marijuana community that an application for a hardship exemption effectively shielded new dispensaries from city action to close them. More than 500 applications for exemptions have been filed. The City Council plans to consider 14 this afternoon.

“We are at a pivotal point given the rash of establishments that have created a negative impact in our communities,” Reyes said, “so we are going to have to roll up our sleeves and take up a number of these hardship cases.”

--John Hoeffel at Los Angeles City Hall