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Pot clinics in L.A. under orders to close

June 7, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
Hundreds of marijuana clinics in the city of Los Angeles are under orders to close on Monday or face serious penalties. In some cases, clinic operators could wind up in jail.In the last 2.5 years, hundreds of dispensaries have opened throughout Los Angeles.

Under the new city ordinance, only the 137 pot clinics that existed before November 2007 can remain in business, and they must be located at least 1,000 feet away from schools, public parks, libraries and housing. Two dispensaries cannot operate within 1,000 feet of each other.

"I feel sorry for the people that really genuinely need the medicine, supposedly, but 95 percent of the people are nothing but gang-bangers and bums, that's all they are, looking for an easy way to get their dope," said Bob De Velasco of Eagle Rock.

Dispensaries that are told to close their doors but remain open risk fines of up to $2,500 a day. The city attorney's office said it will enforce the new ordinance with the help of police, building inspectors and tips from the public.

"It's very sad because I now don't have a place where I can go get affordable, and this whole thing about, you can't be within 1,000 feet, I don't know where everybody is going to relocate to," said Norma Schaffer, a medical marijuana patient. "I'm a 57-year-old woman that weighs 117 pounds. I'm not going to feel real good about going into other situations when it's been within my community."

She said her neighborhood dispensaries in Eagle Rock have security guards, but other residents in the neighborhood and residents in Highland Park say the dispensaries attract an undesirable and sometimes criminal element to their communities.

"Today is a day to take stock of who is in compliance and who is not," said LAPD Chief Charlie Beck.

"They risk arrest and closure, so I assume that they are going to voluntarily comply. If not, then they are subjecting themselves, their employees to criminal prosecution," said Assistant City Attorney Asha Greenberg.

Yet in West L.A., the operators of JJ Herbal are defying the order. Their argument is that the location is not a grungy lounge and not a neighborhood nuisance.

"I really do believe that there is a medicinal value to this stuff and people really do need it, and I want to be here to provide it for them," said Michael Lee, who manages the clinic.

"I've lived here about six years, and when I first moved in we had none of these collectives around," said Highland Park resident Brian Dolan. "And now, I have one, two, three, four, five, six within walking distance of my house."

The law will allow 187 shops to remain open, still not enough for many patients.

"I have no problem with people smoking pot or any of that, that's not a moral issue for me. It's purely a commercial issue for me," said Dolan. "We want to see good business come to our community. I don't feel like this is it."

City officials are now taking names of the shops that are not in compliance. They expect to be getting calls from the LAPD, building inspectors and neighbors.

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