LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles city council could vote on a much-anticipated medical marijuana ordinance Wednesday, ending a bottleneck that resulted in hundreds of pot dispensaries cropping up across the city.
The draft ordinance would provide guidelines for the nation's second largest city that would greatly reduce the number of marijuana storefronts and would push them out of neighborhoods and into industrial areas.
While other California cities such as San Francisco, Oakland and West Hollywood have been able to regulate medical marijuana, Los Angeles has fumbled to adopt guidelines over the past two years. Authorities believe the delay has led to widespread abuse of a 1996 state ballot measure allowing marijuana for medicinal use.
City officials estimate as many as 1,000 dispensaries operate in Los Angeles alone. Only four were around in 2005, when city officials first discussed a local medical marijuana law.
Among the ordinance's provisions is capping the number of dispensaries at 70. The move would shutter many of the shops no longer in compliance with city law.
Despite the cap, council members would allow 186 dispensaries that registered before a 2007 moratorium was enacted, but not enforced, to stay open as long as they met the other ordinance requirements. The city attorney's office estimates 137 of those 186 dispensaries are still in operation.
Many of the other pot clinics took advantage of a loophole known as a "hardship exemption" that allowed them to open while awaiting city approval.
The ordinance also would allow cash reimbursement at the clinics. Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley has said he will go after pot dispensaries involved in over-the-counter sales. Cooley's interpretation of vaguely written state law provides only for the possession, use and cultivation of marijuana for medicinal purposes, but not the sale of the drug.
A Los Angeles Superior Court judge took a similar stance last week, signaling he would bar a dispensary from selling the drug because he believes it violates state law. Los Angeles City Attorney Carmen Trutanich is trying to close Hemp Factory V permanently.
One of the more controversial guidelines is where dispensaries can be located. While council members agreed on the distance clinics must be from schools, churches and other gathering spots, some were concerned with language that prohibits dispensaries from being 1,000 feet from a residence. The provision would essentially move all dispensaries to industrial areas.
"The idea is to have these dispensaries more accessible to ill patients so they can walk down the street and get what they need," said James Shaw of the Union of Medical Marijuana Patients, an advocacy group for medicinal marijuana users. "It's NIMBYism."
Fourteen states, including California, permit medical marijuana. Pot, however, remains illegal under federal law.