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Medicinal marijuana operators and advocates stage protest at City Hall

September 7, 2010 |  1:37 pm

Incensed by the city’s determination that just a quarter of the registered Los Angeles medical marijuana dispensaries are qualified to remain open, about 80 operators and advocates held a subdued rally Tuesday and then trooped into City Hall to demand that the City Council intervene.

The protest’s only speaker was Don Duncan, a Los Angeles resident who is the state director for Americans for Safe Access, an advocacy organization. Standing on a planter next to placards that went unused and donuts that went uneaten, he urged the crowd to lobby their council members.

“Don’t be discouraged. Don’t be cynical. Stand up and fight some more, and we’re going to win this,” he said. “I say shame on the council for letting this process go on autopilot.”

The city clerk’s office, based on legal advice from the city attorney’s office, has notified 128 of the 169 registered dispensaries that applied to remain open that they were ineligible. Many were eliminated only because their management changed since they registered with the city in 2007, a little-noticed requirement in the city’s medical marijuana ordinance. Among those excluded are almost all of the most politically active dispensary operators.

Barry Kramer, who runs California Patients Collective, told the City Council that the provision was ridiculous. “The city has deemed that a management change is somehow harmful to our community,” he said, noting that the Police Department also has had a management change.

Heather Boswell, who cradled a Jack Russell terrier she has for emotional support, said she uses marijuana for manic depression, to balance out the medication she takes. “My motto is, I don’t get high, I get even,” she said. She noted that the ordinance restricts patients to one dispensary, and she said the one she prefers, Cornerstone Research Collective, was declared ineligible because of management changes. If it closes, she said, “I will be in a very bad situation.”

Michael Backes, who runs Cornerstone in the Eagle Rock neighborhood, predicted that many aspects of the ordinance, which took effect in June, would not stand up in court. “It’s going to be shredded like a potato pancake,” he said. “When this thing ends up being chopped up with scissors by the Superior Court, the City Council is going to have to step up.”

The city has sued all the ineligible operators and asked Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Anthony J. Mohr to rule on whether the city’s procedure is legal. About 80 dispensaries, which were outlawed by the ordinance, have sued to overturn the law.

Councilman Jose Huizar, whose district includes Eagle Rock, said, “There’s going to be a lot of kinks in any new legislation.” He said the city attorney’s office has advised the council to let the court cases go forward. “Look, we have to see what the judge rules,” he said.

He said he was not worried that people who need to use medical marijuana will be unable to get it, noting that the ordinance allows for 70 dispensaries. “When all the dust settles,” he said, “medical marijuana patients will have access, but we’re going through an uncomfortable time.”

Councilman Ed Reyes, who oversaw the creation of the ordinance, said he intends to meet with city officials to discuss its implementation.

“It’s a living document,” he said.

But he said he was wary of intruding into the winnowing process. “To me, what’s hard to grasp is: Who do you believe?” he said. “Weeding out who is legitimate is very difficult.”

-- John Hoeffel