Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa on Wednesday signed an ordinance banning storefront medical marijuana dispensaries, calling it the city's best option to preserve access to medical marijuana in the city.
The Los Angeles City Council last week unanimously approved the ban, which allows for individuals or their caregivers to grow and transport marijuana. It also allows for up to three patients or caregivers to collectively grow and share cannabis in homes or apartments, but not storefronts.
The law includes exemptions for hospices and licensed clinics, as well as facilities and home health agencies where patients get "medical care or supportive services."
The ordinance will eliminate a significant source of revenue for the city, which is facing a $200 million budget deficit for the next fiscal year. Dispensaries generated $2.5 million in tax revenue for the city from 2011 gross receipts, according to Ben Ceja, a finance specialist in the City Administrative Office.
"This ordinance is our best option to preserve access to
medical marijuana for patients while protecting public safety and
quality of life for all Angelenos," Villaraigosa said. "We look forward
to a clarification from the state Supreme Court on this vague and
ambiguous (state) law so the city can
effectively plan for the future."
The ban also has the support of Los Angeles police Chief Charlie Beck, who told the City Council last week that the overwhelming number of clinics have become for-profit operations that attract crime.
Villaraigosa and other City Council members say a shifting legal landscape has made it nearly impossible to control the number of pot shops in the city, estimated to be around 1,000. Poorly written state law gave cities no direction on how to regulate the distribution of marijuana, according to supporters of the ban.
With the mayor's signature, the ordinance will go into effect in 31 days.
The 792 dispensaries registered to pay city taxes will receive a letter from the city notifying them of the new ordinance and ordering them to close.
The city will then go to court to seek closure orders for those that do not shut down, starting with the "bad actors," the dispensaries that have generated the largest number of complaints from residents.
In a contradictory move, the council last week also agreed to move forward with a plan by Councilman Paul Koretz and Council President Herb Wesson that would allow up to 182 dispensaries that existed prior to 2007 -- when the council placed a moratorium on new dispensaries -- to operate under tightened regulations.
All other dispensaries would be forced to close under the proposal, which has strong support from the United Food and Commercial Workers union. The plan, however, is still months away from being ready.
Opponents of the storefront ban said it will be lethal for patients with terminal illnesses who cannot grow marijuana on their own because it is costly and requires extensive training.
Americans For Safe Access, a medical marijuana advocacy group, vowed to get a referendum on the March citywide election ballot to repeal the law.
"The tens of thousands of patients harmed by this vote will not take it sitting down," Americans for Safe Access California Director Don Duncan said after the vote. "We will campaign forcefully to overturn this poor decision by the council."
To get the referendum on the March 5 primary ballot, the group would need to present 27,425 valid petition signatures to the City Clerk by Sept. 21, or on Dec. 7 to make the May 21 general election.