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Activists call for referendum against L.A. pot shop ban

August 29, 2012 |  5:50 am

Medical marijuana containers

Medical marijuana activists said they expect to turn in about 50,000 voter signatures to the city clerk Wednesday, hoping to force a ballot referendum to repeal a recently passed ban on medical marijuana dispensaries in Los Angeles.

If the signatures are submitted, the ordinance will be temporarily suspended, according to election officials in the city clerk's office. The names will then be verified against voter registration information. If they are found to be valid, the ban would be further suspended until voters get a chance to decide whether to keep it in place, the officials said.

The vote would share the ballot with the mayoral primary contest, adding a controversial issue to the mix of the campaign season. But the dispensary activists behind the ballot measure effort say they are hoping that the referendum can be avoided.

They are calling on the City Council to overturn the ban -- which is set to go into effect on Sept. 6 -- and adopt a more lenient ordinance.

Councilman Paul Koretz, one of the medical cannabis community's staunchest allies, is pushing for a new law that would allow 100 or so of the city's oldest and most established dispensaries to remain open.

"The city needs a small number of well-regulated and patient-centered dispensaries," he said Tuesday. Without it, he said, "the city will be stuck with no rules and no protections again."

Los Angeles officials have struggled for years to come up with a workable dispensary policy, thanks to ever-changing court precedents as to what cities can do to regulate distribution of medical marijuana. The city is battling more than 100 lawsuits over its earlier attempts to regulate dispensaries, according to officials in the office of City Atty. Carmen Trutanich.

The ban passed by the council last month with support from Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Police Chief Charlie Beck prohibits the sale of marijuana but allows groups of three or fewer to cultivate and share the drug.

Activists say the ban violates a state law guaranteeing patients safe access to medical marijuana, because most people aren't able to grow medical-grade pot. That claim was the basis of a lawsuit filed against the city this month by a medical marijuana trade association that represents patients, dispensaries and growers.

The referendum effort has been backed by other groups, including a newly formed labor union of dispensary workers. The groups are planning a news conference on the issue Wednesday morning -- and then to submit their signatures to the city.


Medical pot backers seek to repeal L.A. dispensary ban

Activists say they can force referendum on L.A. pot shop ban

Los Angeles City Council bans medical marijuana dispensaries

-- Kate Linthicum at Los Angeles City Hall

Photo: A sampling of medical marijuana strains available at PureLife Alternative Wellness Center in Los Angeles. Credit: Frederic J. Brown / AFP/Getty Images