LA City Council considers pot dispensaries for ballot vote

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Marijuana plant

Marijuana plant (AP Photo)

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LOS ANGELES (CNS) – The Los Angeles City Council today will consider placing a trio of proposals regulating medical marijuana dispensaries on the May 21 general election ballot.

The council last week gave preliminary approval to placing two petition- driven initiatives on the ballot. But since they only passed on 8-4 votes — with council members Jose Huizar, Mitchell Englander, Jan Perry and Bernard Parks opposing — they both require a second council vote.

One initiative would allow an unlimited number of storefront dispensaries a certain distance from schools, parks, libraries, child care centers and religious institutions. It would also increase a business tax on cannabis sales by 20 percent, to $60 per every $1,000 of sales.

A second so-called “limited immunity” initiative would dramatically reduce the number of medical pot shops in the city from hundreds down to about 100 by only allowing those that can prove they were operating prior to Sept. 14, 2007, when the city tried to place a moratorium on new dispensaries.

Earlier this month, the council voted 11-1 to move forward with yet a third measure for the May ballot that would be a hybrid of the other two. The plan, sponsored by Councilman Paul Koretz, would include the tax increase on medical marijuana sales but also reduce the number of dispensaries by limiting those allowed to the pre-September 2007 marijuana collectives.

Koretz’s proposal would also include limitations on hours of operation, require background checks for collective employees and require dispensaries to be certain distances from each other and such sensitive facilities as schools and childcare centers.

Huizar cast the lone vote against the Koretz proposal. He said any new ordinance would be premature until the state Supreme Court rules on pending lawsuits or the state fixes California law governing the distribution of medical marijuana, including provisions that restrict doctors’ abilities to freely prescribe the drug for any illness.

“No matter what we do, we have a state law that is unworkable and makes it very difficult for local governments to come up with a legal framework that allows for safe access and protection for neighborhoods,” Huizar said.

Koretz said he hoped his proposal would win over supporters of the limited immunity initiative — United Food and Commercial Workers Local 770, the Greater Los Angeles Collective Alliance, and Americans for Safe Access L.A. Local 770 officials announced Monday they had decided to back Koretz’s proposal.

“We came together in agreement that this policy does the best job of balancing the best interests of patients and neighborhoods, while at the same time growing the city’s tax base,” according to Brennan Thicke, operator of the Venice Beach Care Center, employees of which belong to the union.

Koretz said he included the increased tax on marijuana in his proposal because it would be “a big carrot” for voters. The revenue could also cover the cost for the city to enforce the new ordinance, he said.

Koretz noted that the signature-driven initiative that includes the tax would not reduce the number of storefront dispensaries, including some that create problems for neighborhoods.

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