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D.A. warns medi-marijuana dispensaries

October 8, 2009 12:31:02 AM PDT
Demonstrators gathered outside the Montebello Country Club Thursday for a peaceful protest. Inside the country club, local law enforcement was looking at new ways to deal with marijuana clinics. "They'll be on notice, they better know we're coming," said L.A. County District Attorney Steve Cooley.

According to law enforcement officials, the fight over medical-marijuana dispensaries is that they are supposed to run as non-profit collectives, but instead, officials claim they are attracting criminal activity and operators are skirting the rules.

"About 100 percent of dispensaries in Los Angeles County and the city are operating illegally," said Cooley. "The over-the-counter sale of marijuana for money is illegal. It's that simple."

Cooley and other law enforcement officials attended a private seminar called Eradicating Medical Marijuana Dispensaries.

Outside demonstrators came to protest. They say voters approved Proposition 215 to legalize medical marijuana.

"They can do a lot to be disruptive," said Don Duncan, Americans For Safe Access. "You know, they can come in, they can bust people, they can confiscate medicine, they can make people stand trial and we really need to avoid that. That's not what the voters voted to approve."

"We're serving our communities," said Yamileta Bolanos, Greater Los Angeles Collective. "We're doing it in a good way: fair and safe way for our patients."

What concerns law enforcement is the large number of medical marijuana dispensaries.

No one is sure exactly how many there are in Los Angeles County but it's somewhere between 600 and 800. They worry that it's not about medicine but about making money.

Officials stress that if there are legal collectives they will not be affected.

"And if they are giving marijuana to individuals with chronic and serious illnesses, that's absolutely legal and we're going to respect that," said Cooley.

Newly elected Los Angeles City Attorney Carmen Trutanich said it's also a health issue. He claims marijuana at these clinics can sometimes contain very high levels of dangerous pesticides.

"And yet you expose them to those levels of carcinogens is, is criminal," said Trutanich.

The district attorney's office says it will now begin drafting rules to outline what they feel is illegal and then enforce the law.

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