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Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Legal Volatility of LA’s Conflicting Medical Marijuana Initiatives

Three competing measures will appear on the May 21, 2013, ballot in the City of Los Angeles in an attempt to regulate the city’s medical marijuana dispensaries.  The Los Angeles City Council has attempted to regulate collectives for nearly 7 years, unsuccessfully, including a failed moratorium, a failed ban and hundreds of lawsuits against the City.  Some frustrated dispensary operators have taken matters into their own hands with two legally shaky voter initiatives that may do more harm than good.  The LA City Council has responded to these initiatives by voting to put its own measure on the ballot, which is about as legally sound as its previous ordinances.

The Medical Marijuana Collectives Initiative Ordinance sponsored by the Committee to Protect Patients and Neighborhoods is made up of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 770, the Greater Los Angeles Collective Alliance, and Americans for Safe Access.  If it’s true that what we say enough times becomes so, then this ordinance is aimed to shut down every dispensary in Los Angeles.  Seventeen sections of the initiative begin, Every medical marijuana collective is prohibited…” (pages 5-6).  Everyone’s illegal including the patients, “It is unlawful to own, establish, operate, use, or permit the establishment or operation of a medical marijuana collective, or to participate as an employee, contractor, agent or volunteer, or in any other manner or capacity in any medical marijuana collective” (page 4).

The Committee to Protect Patients and Neighborhoods has adopted most of its language from LA City Councilmember Paul Koretz’ proposed ordinance, the Limited Immunity Ban.  Who’s immune?  A small group of collectives hoping to create a dispensary monopoly by declaring that all other ‘competition’ and their patients are illegal. Exempt are those operating in the City as of September 14, 2007, as evidenced by a collective tax registration or tax exemption certificate issued by the City on or before that date” and the collective has to prove registration under at least two other schemes (page 5) already deemed unlawful.  Interestingly, labor unions usually don’t try to put their members or potential members out of work.  However, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union mission in Los Angeles is to put as many collectives out of business as possible – a legally questionable tactic in itself for a labor union.


The Regulation of Medical Marijuana for Safe Neighborhoods and Safe Access is sponsored by Angelenos for Safe Access and founded by David Welch, a Los Angeles-based attorney.  According to this proposal, “this initiative is not intended to conflict with federal… law…, [is to] be interpreted to be compatible with federal.. enactments” (page 3); and "nothing in this section implies or authorizes that any activity connected with the distribution or possession of cannabis is legal unless otherwise authorized and allowed by… federal law."  However, the proposal does conflict with federal law. The U.S. Department of Justice and the DEA are clear that its position is that marijuana is still federally illegal and therefore, no one can comply with this ordinance. 

Angelenos for Safe Access then give their power away to LA City Council by allowing the council to amend or repeal the ordinance.  “The provisions of the Los Angeles Municipal Code added by, amended by, or contained in this initiative measure may be amended to further its purposes by ordinance passed by a majority vote of the Council…” (page 15). The purpose of the voter initiative is to create policy that lawmakers failed to enact and they can’t change.  After all the frustration with the City’s inability to properly regulate collectives and after all the money and effort spent to get an initiative on the ballot, Angelenos for Safe Access defeat their own efforts.  It’s hard to know if Welsh’s group is working on behalf of the collectives and their patients or federal authorities and city officials.
All of these proposed regulations present legal issues with arbitrary dates and numbers.  Public safety would be compromised by a handful of collectives attempting to serve over 400,000 patients in Los Angeles.  Prices would increase. The number of compassion and discount programs would decrease.  Low-income, disabled and seriously ill patients, those for whom Proposition 215 was crafted, will have the least amount of safe, affordable access.  The Los Angeles Police Department has long stated that it wants to see 12 or fewer dispensaries in LA; 14 or fewer is what the DEA can eliminate in a day.  The language within these initiatives demonstrates that those intimately involved with these initiatives have financial and political motives that are helping law enforcement and political officials, and not the patients. 


Links To Initiatives:

Medical Marijuana Collectives Initiative Ordinance

Regulation of Medical Marijuana for Safe Neighborhoods and Safe Access

LA City Council Motion Initiative Ordinance


News Links:

Injunction issued against L.A.'s medical marijuana law

Federal crackdown on medical pot sales reflects a shift in policy

Los Angeles City Council votes to ban marijuana shops

Marijuana: A failure to regulate, but not by dispensaries
L.A.'s Latest Try at Regulating Pot: 'Limited Immunity' for Marijuana Shops

In Los Angeles, advocates push dueling medical marijuana measures


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