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Council backs medical marijuana sales, might adopt cap on dispensaries

November 24, 2009 |  6:07 pm

Dispensaries will be allowed to continue selling medical marijuana, the Los Angeles City Council decided today as it considered a draft ordinance that may also cap the number of shops in the city between 70 and 200.

City Atty. Carmen Trutanich and L.A. County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley had pressed the council to explicitly ban the sale of marijuana, saying that the state's medical marijuana laws do not allow it and citing several recent court decisions to back up their argument.

The contentious issue snarled the council's efforts to develop an ordinance, with members caught for months between their desire to provide access to marijuana for patients who need it and their reluctance to reject the advice of their own attorney.

But the council stripped out language that would bar sales and replaced it with a provision that would allow "cash contributions, reimbursements and compensations" for actual expenses, as long as they comply with state law. The law has been interpreted differently by medical marijuana advocates and law enforcement officials.

"We have some very elegant and flexible language that will adjust as state law is defined," council President Eric Garcetti said, explaining how the council decided to finesse the complicated legal issue.

Dispensaries throughout the state sell marijuana, though law enforcement officials, particularly in Southern California, have stepped up their efforts to ban sales. Dispensary operators said a ban would have made it difficult to run their stores, requiring them to find a different, and probably more difficult, way to recover their costs for buying marijuana and maintaining stores.

The council had an extensive discussion on Councilman Jose Huizar's proposal for a cap and asked city officials to report back on details of how that might work.

Garcetti said he believed the council would adopt a cap, calling it the right approach.

The council is scheduled to take up the ordinance again Dec. 2.

-- John Hoeffel at Los Angeles City Hall