In 1996, voters approved a ballot measure that authorized individuals and collectives to possess, use and cultivate marijuana for medicinal purposes. "It was intended to make access to medical marijuana practical, easy and safe for the seriously ill and the dying," said Councilman Paul Koretz, one of the co-authors of the Compassionate Use Act. Councilman said Richard Alarcon believes the current state law didn't call for a proliferation of pot clinics. "The intent of the proposition before the voters was not to create what we created in the city of Los Angeles. It's a mess," said Alarcon. Medical marijuana dispensaries have popped up all over California, and in L.A. alone, there are close to 1,000 of them. According to the L.A. District Attorney's Office, a lot of them are operating illegally.
District Attorney Steve Cooley claims a lot of the medical marijuana dispensaries are selling marijuana for profit.
"This medicinal marijuana dispensary thing in L.A. is a complete fraud," Cooley said. "Starting with the doctors issuing these phony baloney prescriptions without examinations, for conditions that don't exist to perfectly healthy people who go down and appoint some Russian organized crime guy as their caregiver, and then get their dope."
The city council is trying to craft an ordinance that will allow a lot of the dispensaries to remain in business, saying they provide a vital service and while they are making a profit, they should not be penalized.
"We need to serve our community, our city, a plan to protect our neighborhoods, make it safe for our kids to grow up in this great city, but also allow access for those who are dying and those who are ill," said L.A. City Councilman Ed Reyes, who introduced the first set of amendments Wednesday.
Reyes also criticized the plan to ban sales outright.
To settle the dispute over what state law does and does not allow, Councilwoman Jan Perry has introduced a motion asking State Attorney General Jerry Brown to clarify the state law on over-the-counter sales of marijuana.
"I want to make sure that they have this safe access with dignity and they're certainly is some different interpretation of what this primary caregiver is and how they can be reimbursed," said Councilwoman Janice Hahn.
Among the other items the council will consider is placing a cap on the number of dispensaries in Los Angeles, the distance they must be from schools, churches and other gathering spots, and how much money a dispensary should have on premise.
Cooley has been very critical of the city council. He called city council members clueless and said their deliberations were "meaningless and irrelevant."
He argues the state law is very clear, and it supersedes anything the city council comes up with. Cooley says if you have a doctor's permission, you can grow and smoke marijuana, but if you try to sell it, you're no different than a drug dealer.
The district attorney has made it clear that he will crack down on dispensaries that are selling marijuana over the counter for profit.