LA's Sorry Week in Weed

By Tony O'Neill 07/27/12

It's unclear who benefits from the LA council's vote to shut down the Green Mile's pot dispensaries.

A store on LA's Green Mile Photo via

In a lifeless economy, the Los Angeles City Council took the unusual step on Tuesday of voting 14-0 to immediately close down up to 762 thriving businesses within city limits. According to the LA Times: "Medical marijuana activists who had packed the council chambers jeered when the vote came down. More than a dozen Los Angeles Police Department officers were called in to quell them. Under the ban, medical patients and their caregivers will be able to grow and share the drug in small groups of three people or less But the activists say most patients don’t have the time or skills to cultivate marijuana. One dispensary owner told the council that it would cost patients a minimum of $5,000 to grow marijuana at home." The report then notes, "In a seemingly contradictory move, the council also voted to instruct city staff to draw up an ordinance that would allow a group of about 170 dispensaries that registered with the city several years ago to remain open. Councilman Jose Huizar, who voted against that motion, said it might give the public 'false hope' that the ban would not be enforced. He said the ban would be enforced, especially against problem dispensaries that have drawn complaints from neighbors. 'Relief is on its way,' he said."

Over at Dangerous Minds, Richard Metzger—who lives on what has been dubbed LA’s “Green Mile”—offered his impassioned perspective: "Since the recession, there have been very, very few new retail businesses that have opened along the 'Green Mile' other than pot dispensaries. A few things, but not many. In every case, they are inhabiting real estate that was not being used, and that had not been used in some time...I have seen no appreciable rise or fall in the neighborhood crime rate." Metzger goes on to insist, "From everything that I HAVE SEEN, these places all seem to be run by law-abiding, friendly, intelligent people. They all seem to be doing okay financially, even though there are so many of them...I guess people in LA must like pot, huh?. I’ve never heard one neighbor complain about the pot dispensaries." He concludes, "No one cares but the politicians. The issue has been settled by the free market, so to speak. The local range of opinion...ranges from positive to benignly not giving a shit...I’ve not seen one business harmed by their proximity to a medical marijuana dispensary, nor have I heard a peep from any local business owners about any perceived negative effect the pot shops have had on them, because there haven’t been any negative effects."

In an editorial published on Thursday, the LA Times summed up the mess quite succinctly: "Is LA's new ban even legal?" it asked. "There's no clear answer to that question, but a recent court ruling suggests that it isn't. After Los Angeles County imposed a blanket ban on pot distribution in unincorporated areas in December 2010, it was challenged by a Covina collective, which won a key victory this month in the state's 2nd District Court of Appeal. Writing for the three-justice panel, Justice Robert Mallano said the county's ban was preempted by state law and contradicted the intent of the Legislature." 

So here's where we're at: LA has now banned all but the tiniest marijuana collectives. When it attempts to enforce this ban, the city will be sued. This means that action will be delayed for months—or quite possibly until the state Supreme Court weighs in on a series of marijuana cases next year. Mission accomplished?

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Tony O'Neill, a regular contributor to The Fix, is the author of several novels, including Digging the VeinDown and Out on Murder Mile and Sick City. He also co-authored the New York Times bestseller Hero of the Underground (with Jason Peter) and the Los Angeles Times bestseller Neon Angel (with Cherie Currie). He lives in New York with his wife and daughter. You can follow Tony on Twitter.