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L.A. City Council tries again today to adopt a medical marijuana ordinance

January 13, 2010 |  6:00 am

After a hiatus of almost a month, the Los Angeles City Council returns today to the controversial issue of how to regulate medical marijuana dispensaries, and city leaders hope they will finally be able to vote on their long-delayed ordinance.

The council stalled in December over restrictions on where pot stores can be located and decided to postpone debate until city planners completed a detailed analysis of several proposals. Maps drawn by planners show that placing strict limits on dispensaries' proximity to residences would eliminate most locations in the city.

Today's debate is likely to focus on whether the council should require dispensaries to be 500 feet or 1,000 feet from one another and so-called sensitive uses, including schools, parks, libraries, religious institutions, childcare facilities and youth centers.

Ed Reyes, the council member who has overseen the process of writing the ordinance, said he is willing to accept either approach. "I think it's going to be one of those cases where not everyone is going to be happy, but we have to move something along," he said.

Most of the other contentious issues have been resolved, though they could be revisited. The council's 15-page ordinance caps the number of dispensaries at 70, but allows shops that officially registered with the city and are still open in their original locations to remain in business. City officials estimate that there are at least 137 such dispensaries.

Los Angeles adopted a moratorium on new dispensaries in 2007 while the council drafted a permanent ordinance. But the city failed to enforce the ban and hundreds of dispensaries have opened -- and are still opening -- in the city, creating concerns in many neighborhoods.

In October, a local judge ruled that the moratorium was extended illegally and was invalid. That left Los Angeles with almost no control over its medical marijuana dispensaries.

For an ordinance to pass on first reading, it needs 12 votes in favor and no votes against. If the council falls short, which seems likely, it will have to vote again a week later.

Once the ordinance takes effect, the city can move to shut down renegade dispensaries, but it is likely to face legal challenges that could slow down the process.

-- John Hoeffel