Ordinance Limiting Medical Marijuana Dispensaries Set to Pass in L.A.


The City Council in Los Angeles is expected to pass an ordinance today that will regulate the flourishing medical marijuana industry in L.A. County and across California. Hundreds of medical marijuana dispensaries may be forced to close their doors, and existing facilities would face tighter regulations.

Los Angeles is currently experiencing a surge in dispensaries which some have termed a “Green Rush.” Despite the intentions of lawmakers, the city—which is struggling financially—may find it difficult to enforce the ordinance. It is already unable to regulate the number of clinics which are open, since more than 600 new dispensaries have opened their doors in the past 10 months—despite a moratorium on new dispensaries which took effect in 2007. There are several loopholes, including one that is known as a hardship exemption, which allow the shops’ owners to dispense marijuana pending their approval by the city.

Approximately 140 clinics which are still qualified to remain open, because they were grandfathered in when the ban was enacted, will be able to remain open if they meet other requirements that are stipulated in the ordinance. Otherwise, the city would cap the number of dispensaries at 70.

Additionally, Los Angeles officials would spread the clinics more evenly throughout the city, according to a districting plan that is already in plan. Dispensaries would also be prohibited from being located 1,000 feet or less from “sensitive use” locations such as schools, parks, and other areas where people gather. Many of the dispensaries would therefore be obliged to relocate to industrial neighborhoods. This aspect of the ordinance has drawn fire from medical marijuana advocates, who fear that patients would be inconvenienced in trying to get their medicine.

Authorities must still determine what kind of registration fees will be paid by the marijuana collectives. Estimates as to the number of existing locations range between 800 and 1,000.

According to the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the top three reported uses of medical marijuana are chronic pain (40%), AIDS-related (22%) and mood disorders (15%). The state of California has no standard for the cultivation and distribution for medical marijuana, but instead permits local jurisdictions to set their own guidelines.

The history of legalized medical marijuana use in California goes back to 1996, when Proposition 215, also known as the Compassionate Use Act, was passed with 55.6% of votes. The act initially allowed patients with a valid doctor’s recommendation, or prescription, as well as the patient’s designated primary caregivers, to cultivate and possess marijuana for personal medical use. It has since expanded to include the network of collective and cooperative distribution that has led to the opening of dispensaries which the state is now struggling to regulate.


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