September 06, 2012
By Kenneth Miller
LA Watts Times Correspondent
It is critical mass for the thousands of patrons in Los Angeles who require use of medical marijuana as the Sept. 6 ban looms on the majority of dispensaries here, and communities fear the likelihood of emerging street merchants filling the vacuum.
As more than 50,000 generated signatures reached the Los Angeles City Clerk’s office this week, and as local law enforcement prepares to mount raids on several dispensaries, a crescendo will be reached on one of the nation’s ongoing hot button issues.
California voters passed Prop 215 by a majority of 56 percent in 1996 legalizing cannabis and certifying a California Supreme Court ruling that marijuana is as legal as any prescription drug under state law.
Arizona, Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Hawaii and Nevada joined the state of California in legalizing the popular drug.
The law was to ensure that seriously ill Californians would have the right to obtain and use marijuana for illnesses such as cancer, anorexia, AIDS, chronic pain, spasticity, glaucoma, arthritis, migraine or any others illnesses for which it provides relief.
In subsequent years the dispensaries began to mushroom and storefronts with the green plant symbol were prominent in neighborhoods and near schools.
During the peak of its growth there were an estimated 186 dispensaries, but Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa signed an ordinance in 2010 that "shut hundreds of marijuana dispensaries in the city and imposed stricter regulations on the 186 remaining stores."
The measure capped the number of marijuana stores at 70, but allowed 116 stores that registered before November 13, 2007 to stay in business. Each store was required to pay an annual licensing fee of $1,595.
Critics of Prop. 215 contend that too many of the dispensaries increased the crime rate in the communities where they are located, and enhanced usage among teenagers, while promoting the drug to school age children.
The 2010 ordinance increased the distance between dispensaries and schools, parks, churches and private residences and restricted their hours of operation from 10am to 8pm.
It also imposed security requirements, requirements that the dispensaries be legally organized only as non-profit collectives, and says that any one medical marijuana patient can only get prescriptions filled from one dispensary.
A pair of researchers from UCLA's Luskin School of Public Affairs concluded that clinics in California did not contribute to increased crime in the neighborhoods where they were located.
Nonetheless, the Los Angeles City Council made the decision for a ban on medical marijuana collectives and dispensaries on June 24 and most likely set the wheels in motion for a lengthy and expensive legal battle that could cost the already cash strapped city millions.
There is a strong possibility the ban will not even last.
According to Kimberly Briggs, who serves as a media specialist for the Los Angeles City Clerk’s office, the ban will be suspended once the petitions are submitted to the City Clerk’s office.
Of the 50,000 generated signatures, only 27,480 need to be valid, but it could take the Clerk’s office up to 30 days to verify all of the signatures depending on workload and by that time with raids imminent on dispensaries on Sept.6 many could be put out of business.
Verifying the signatures alone could cost taxpayers an estimated $250,000 and that does not include the cost for what has become an almost infinite war against medical marijuana.
The City does allow for primary caregivers and patients to grow and transport marijuana, and those who have medical marijuana cards will still be able to grow and smoke marijuana. They just will not be allowed to go to a clinic and buy it under the ban.
Even at press time, clinics were still gathering signatures and fighting to overturn the ban. Regardless of the immediate outcome, both the City and the advocates of legal marijuana appear to be in the fight for the long haul.