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L.A. Council takes another shot at pot law

November 24, 2009 12:00:00 AM PST
The Los Angeles City Council resumed talks on Tuesday on a proposed medical marijuana ordinance that could severely restrict who is allowed to sell the drug. A power outage interrupted the debate Tuesday. The city is getting close to a regulation that would control the number of medical marijuana dispensaries in the city.

It is estimated there are somewhere between 800 and 1,000 dispensaries or fewer in the city, but officials do not have an accurate count. The city council wants to put a cap on the number of dispensaries. What they don't want to do is put them out of business. They want to control the dispensaries while at the same time providing marijuana for the sick people who need it.

The debate didn't start well. Power was off on three City Hall floors, including council chambers. There was no audio or televised cable feed. Then backup power kicked in, and so did the city council.

"We are under this big mess because we have not enforced our laws. And if we pull this out, the ability for LAPD to get these records upon request, we will not be enforcing or know which dispensaries are the good ones, and which dispensaries are the bad ones," said L.A. City Councilmember Jose Huizar.

The first extended debate was over an amendment allowing police to look at dispensary records, and the concern it would allow access to private patient medical information.

"These are simply names and either an ID card for either the qualified patient or the primary caregiver," said Jane Usher, special assistant to the city attorney. "And that is a record issued by the state. Or it's a prescription."

Some councilmembers became impatient. This is the sixth ordinance considered by the city.

"Meanwhile, we have 900 to a thousand that are disrupting the neighborhoods, that are creating a chaotic situation in Los Angeles, so urgency is what I look at," said Councilmember Dennis Zine.

"We have to be willing to take a chance on a couple of these things where there may be some lack of clarity, and move forward and try to achieve our goals of getting this under control," said Councilmember Paul Koretz.

Councilmember Richard Alarcon even crossed over into setting a cap on how much people at dispensaries can make. He suggested $100,000. Koretz sarcastically suggested they also set a minimum wage.

An exasperated Janice Hahn said how much dispensary operators make is not their business.

"I think you're taking one ordinance of one particular industry and trying to throw in the entire kitchen sink," Hahn said. "It's really a little bit disturbing, colleagues. Let's stay focused on what we're here to do."

The kitchen sink may be in there, it may not be. The council hopes to put everything together in paper form and have it back Wednesday in front of the city council for a final vote. The ordinance could limit the number of dispensaries to between 70 and 200, and could put strict controls on how the dispensaries take money to stay in business.


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