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Los Angeles Bans Pot Dispensaries

The city's "soft ban" will shut down hundreds of dispensaries, and MMJ advocates worry about the impact on patients.

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By Chrisanne Grise

07/25/12

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The Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously on Tuesday to ban storefront medical marijuana shops until the state’s Supreme Court addresses the drug’s still-unclear legal status. If approved by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa—who supports the measure—the ban would go into effect after 30 days. The so-called “soft ban” would still allow hospices and home health agencies to provide medical marijuana, and individuals would be allowed to grow and share cannabis in their homes or apartments. The idea is to provide safe and affordable access to marijuana for those who legitimately need it, but to clean up the neighborhoods that have been negatively impacted by dispensaries. "Relief is coming in the form of having a more focused and intense crackdown on these dispensaries that cause problems in our neighborhoods," says Councilman Jose Huizar. "If we try to move forward to regulate [storefronts], we will fail. It would be an exercise in futility." The state is awaiting a decision from its Supreme Court on whether or not local governments can ban medical marijuana clinics, but a hearing has not yet been set. L.A. passed an ordinance two years ago that was supposed to shut down hundreds of dispensaries and cap the number at 70, but legal challenges prevented it from being effective, and it expired last month—subsequently, a surge of dispensaries have cropped up. According to officials, 762 collectives have registered with the city, and as many as 200 more could exist. "We need to start with a clean slate," says Councilman Mitchell Englander. "Los Angeles has experimented with marijuana and has failed."

While many are relieved that neighborhoods with dispensaries will be cleaned up, others are worried about how the closing of so many stores will impact patients. Kris Hermes, a spokesperson for Americans For Safe Access, tells The Fix: "It's a slap in the face to people who want a safe and legal means to obtain their medication, a medication that they can rightfully use under state law. There's no way you can have a public health policy that denies medication to tens of thousands of your residents without some consequence. These patients aren't going away." The concern is that people will turn to illegal means to get the drug, increasing crime and putting a strain on law enforcement. Medical marijuana advocates are exploring various tactics to fight the ban, such as gathering signatures for a referendum to overturn the ban or supporting common sense proposals on regulating a certain number of dispensaries. Says Hermes: "We're confident that at the end, we will convince city officials in Los Angeles that the common sense approach of regulation is the way to go".

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