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D.A. will prosecute medical marijuana dispensaries -- even if L.A. does not ban sales [Updated]

November 17, 2009 | 12:00 pm

Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley said today he will prosecute dispensaries that sell medical marijuana even if the Los Angeles City Council adopts an ordinance that does not ban such sales.

On Monday, two council committees rejected the city attorney’s advice and changed a provision in the proposed ordinance, allowing cash transactions as long as they complied with state law.

“Undermining those laws via their ordinance powers is counterproductive, and, quite frankly, we’re ignoring them. They are absolutely so irrelevant it’s not funny,” Cooley said.

Cooley said state law and state court decisions have made it clear that collectives cannot sell marijuana at dispensaries.

He reiterated his view that most, if not all, dispensaries in the county were in violation of the law. “We don’t know of one that’s not engaging in just over-the-counter sales,” he said.

The district attorney said his office was already prosecuting some dispensaries, and he promised to step up efforts next month. Cooley said he decided to weigh in today because he was irritated that the council had ignored the advice of the city attorney, Carmen Trutanich.

“What the City Council is doing is beyond meaningless and irrelevant,” he said.

The district attorney’s view could complicate the City Council’s deliberations. The council is scheduled to consider the ordinance Wednesday, more than four years after it first began to study the issue of dispensaries.

“These guys over there, God love them, are four years into this, and they won’t listen to their good lawyer,” Cooley said. “They’re sort of doing their own thing.”

[Updated at 12:58 p.m.: Councilman Ed Reyes, who has overseen the development of the city’s ordinance, said he did not think Cooley’s comments would cause the council to rethink whether to allow sales. “This is not about Cooley versus Reyes, or Cooley versus the council. This is about the quality of life. We all have better things to do than to do this legal jousting,” he said.

Reyes said the law was not clear on the issue. “We’ll let the courts decide,” he said. “We are trying our very best to work with a system that is very vague at this moment.”

He also noted that Cooley and Trutanich were allies and that both spoke at a training session for narcotics officers focused on eradicating dispensaries. “We’re here to serve the people, not to serve each other’s political agenda,” he said. “It makes no sense to play political football with people’s lives.”

Once the council acts on the issue, Reyes said, “We expect the city attorney to vigorously defend our medical marijuana ordinance.”]  

-- John Hoeffel

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