The Los Angeles City Council voted Tuesday to repeal its ban on medical marijuana storefront dispensaries, ending the suspense over whether it would persist with the law, quash it or let voters decide the issue in a March 2013 referendum.
In a session preceded by impassioned presentations by several Council members, the City Council voted 11-2 to overturn its so-called “Gentle Ban” ordinance aimed at outlawing the sale of medical marijuana in storefronts but preserving the right of cannabis patients to cultivate their own marijuana in collectives of no more than three individuals.
The city’s ordinance, which was signed by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and had the backing of Los Angeles Police Department Chief Charlie Beck and City Attorney Carmen Trutanich, had been put on hold last month after medical marijuana advocates collected enough signatures on a petition calling for an initiative to overturn the ban.
Tuesday’s vote followed a motion by Councilmember Dennis Zine and seconded by Councilmember Bill Rosendahl. The two dissenting votes came from Councilmembers José Huizar and Joe Buscaino. Councilmember Richard Alarcon was absent.
Huizar, who championed the Gentle Ban, told his fellow Council members before the vote that over the past few years Los Angeles has erred on the side of providing access to medical marijuana and hasn’t done enough to protect certain neighborhoods facing a proliferation of pot storefronts.
“In places like Eagle Rock, we continue to have disruptions in our local schools—young people having access to medical marijuana walking down the street openly and blatantly smoking it,” Huizar said. “We need to strike a better balance—we tried that, it didn’t work, then we went to a ban and now we have this challenge.”
In urging his colleagues to repeal the ban, Councilmember Paul Koretz said that since July the city attorney's office has been working on an ordinance that bans most but not all cannabis clinics. The ordinance could be ready for the Council to consider before the beginning of November, he said.
“There aren’t any more good excuses—I know we can have this heard on Oct. 25,” Koretz said.
Councilmember Mitch Englander told the Council that while he supports repealing the Gentle Ban ordinance, he also favors urging the state legislature “to make it clear how, if at all, we’re going to deal” with the presence of pot storefronts in Los Angeles.
The Council needs to “get to the bottom of this as quickly as possible, and to enforce the current laws we do have on the books to make sure bad operators are driven out of the city once and for all,” Englander said.
Rosendahl, who had been on medical leave recently for cancer treatment and was warmly welcomed back to the Council chambers by his colleagues, said his doctor had prescribed medical marijuana to him years ago after he contracted diabetes.
On July 20, Rosendahl said, he had an MRI scan. “The bottom line is that it didn’t give me much time to live, and I said, No, no, no, I’m not ready to go—I certainly want to live a long time.”
It’s imperative to repeal the Gentle Ban, Rosendahl said, speaking in a voice evidently rendered hoarse by his cancer treatment.
“Where does anybody go—where does a Council member go—to get his medical marijuana?” he said, adding that he had met California Attorney General Kamala Harris recently and that she told him that “the problem is in the details” of the state law. “There are no details,” Rosendahl said. “The state legislature has to come up with details and they’ve got to do it properly.”
During the public comments period, James Shaw, director of the Union of Medical Cannabis Patients, presented to the Council 16 copies of a model resolution that he said was designed to “avoid federal and state pre-emption” of the 1996 Compassionate Use Act law that gives patients the right to cultivate and use marijuana.
Tuesday’s vote will now go for a procedural “second reading” next week—most likely next Tuesday—to determine its eventual outcome. According to City Council rules, any motion that is not approved by 12 or more votes must be voted on again the following week. Eight votes, without debate the second time around, would be needed for the marijuana ordinance to be repealed.
After their vote to rescind the marijuana ordinance, Council members voted 13-0 to adopt a resolution that calls upon the California legislature to address “the inadequacies of state law regarding the cultivation, recommendation and distribution of medical marijuana.”
The resolution was introduced last week by Councilmembers Herb J. Wesson, Huizar and Englander. The resolution had one amendment—that it be taken up with the state legislature in 2013-14, after its current recess and any remaining sessions scheduled until the end of this year.
Among other things, the nine-point resolution asks the legislature to:
• Define conduct stemming from a state law that allows people to “collectively or cooperatively cultivate medical marijuana."
• Confirm that state law does not allow medical marijuana to be sold or distributed in storefront dispensaries.
• Clarify that medical marijuana collectives may not open or operate without authorization from local governments, especially in Charter cities that have the power to adopt ordinances to regulate the distribution of medical marijuana.
• Impose stricter regulations on physicians who provide medical marijuana recommendations to qualified patients, including the quarterly renewal of those recommendations, along with a specified level of ongoing health care to the patients.