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L.A. officials deny dispensaries’ bid for more time on medical marijuana referendum

March 17, 2010 |  1:25 pm

A coalition of medical marijuana collectives hoping to overturn a new Los Angeles ordinance that will cap the number of dispensaries suffered a setback Wednesday when city election officials denied them an extension to continue to collect signatures for a referendum.

"It's just evidence to show that the city is blocking what the people's will is," said Dan Halbert, who oversaw the effort and is the operator of Rainforest Collective in Mar Vista, one of hundreds of dispensaries that the ordinance would force to shut down.

The city's election division chief, Arleen Taylor, said in a letter to Halbert's lawyer that the City Charter does not give her the authority to grant an extension. The charter requires referendum petitions to be filed within 30 days after an ordinance is published. That deadline was Monday.

The decision makes it likely that the referendum effort will fail. The petition drive netted about 30,000 signatures, but Halbert estimated that only about 14,200 were valid. The number needed to qualify a referendum on a law is 27,425.

City election officials, however, are reviewing the petitions to see if they have more than the required signatures. If so, then they will test a random sample to determine how many are valid.

Halbert asked for a 10-day extension to gather more signatures, arguing that it had taken city election officials that long to approve the petition, cutting into the time he had to circulate it. Taylor, however, noted that her staff responded to each draft petition within a day and said those submissions were "informal, incomplete and contained many errors."

Halbert declined to respond. "It is what is. We are where we are," he said.

Nathan Hoffman, a lawyer for the dispensaries, said that the group may consider organizing a referendum on the registration fees for dispensaries, which the City Council has not yet adopted. He noted that the medical marijuana ordinance cannot go into effect until those fees are in place.

He suggested that the group might look to hire professional signature-gathers. "Dan Halbert, through his group, has been able to raise a war chest," he said.

Halbert, however, said he was still considering his options. "That's a possibility," he said. "Honestly, I think, now that we are geared up, we could actually succeed."

-- John Hoeffel