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L.A. City Council gives preliminary approval to pot ordinance requiring 1,000-foot buffer zones [Updated]

January 19, 2010 |  1:07 pm


The Los Angeles City Council settled the remaining controversial issue and voted today to adopt a medical marijuana ordinance requiring dispensaries to be at least 1,000 feet from places where children congregate, such as schools, parks and libraries.

The council will have to vote again in a week because the 11-3 tally fell short of the 12-0 result that an ordinance needs to pass on the first reading, but members were relieved to end the excruciatingly meandering debate over the city's fast-spreading pot outlets.

"Our moment is now, our moment is today. We've been discussing it for two-plus years," Councilman Herb Wesson said in urging the council to vote.

The ordinance sets new rules for dispensaries that council members hope will curtail the anything-goes environment that made Los Angeles the vivid epicenter of the money-fueled Green Rush that erupted when the Obama administration announced last year that it would no longer prosecute dispensaries adhering to California's medical marijuana laws.

Hundreds of dispensaries have opened despite the city's 2007 moratorium, angering neighborhoods that have seen store after store pop up on main commercial boulevards.

The City Council began to consider the issue four and a half years ago when it asked the police department to make recommendations. The department found just four dispensaries, but called for rules to keep them from schools and recreational areas. Two years later, when the council imposed its moratorium on new stores, 186 registered with the city to operate under the ban.

The ordinance caps the number of dispensaries at 70, but allows exceptions for those that registered under the moratorium and are still in business. All other dispensaries will have to close, though some are making plans to challenge the city's ordinance in court.

Dispensaries will have to comply with numerous restrictions. The law aims to shut down the late-night pot club scene, banning on-site consumption and requiring dispensaries to close at 8 p.m. Collectives will have to keep extensive records on their operations and cannot make a profit, a restriction that is likely to be enforced by special units in the police department.

The ordinance will not take effect until the council sets the registration fee that collectives will have to pay, a decision city officials said could be made in the next few weeks.

-- John Hoeffel

Photo: A customer points out a particular type of cannabis she wants to purchase from the Pure Life Alternative Wellness Center in Los Angeles, California, December 24, 2009. Credit: Rick Loomis/Los Angeles Times