Two Medical Marijuana Initiatives Move Toward L.A. Ballot

A budtender rolls a marijuana cigarette at Perennial Holistic Wellness Center medical marijuana dispensary in L.A. | Photo: David McNew/Getty Images

The Los Angeles City Council gave preliminary approval on Tuesday to place two medical marijuana initiatives before voters on the May 21 citywide election ballot.

The council voted 8-4 on each of the initiatives, requiring a second majority vote of the 15-member council next week.

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One initiative would allow an unlimited number of storefront dispensaries that are certain distance from schools, parks libraries, child care centers and religious institutions. It would also include a 20 percent increase in the business tax on cannabis sales to $60 per every $1,000 of marijuana sold.

A second so-called "limited immunity" measure would dramatically reduce the number of medical pot shops in the city from hundreds down to about 100, by only allowing those that can prove they were operating prior to Sept. 14, 2007, when the city first tried to limit an explosion in the number of dispensaries around the city.

Separate coalitions of medical marijuana advocates gathered enough petition signatures to qualify the two initiatives for the city's ballot, which will feature races for mayor and city council seats.

City Council members Jose Huizar, Mitchell Englander, Jan Perry, and Bernard Parks opposed placing the initiatives on the ballot.

Huizar said any new ordinance would be premature until the state Supreme Court rules on pending lawsuits or the state fixes California law governing the distribution of medical marijuana, including provisions that restrict doctors' abilities to freely prescribe the drug for any illness.

"No matter what we do, we have a state law that is unworkable and makes it very difficult for local governments to come up with a legal framework that allows for safe access and protection for neighborhoods," Huizar said.

"So no matter what we do, I think it's going to negatively impact our local neighborhoods," he said. "The council continues to support a dispensary model for how marijuana is distributed when a dispensary model is illegal under state law. A sale of marijuana is illegal, whether you do it over the counter or in the street."

The City Council voted last week to move forward with yet a third measure for the May ballot that would be a hybrid of the other two. The plan sponsored by Councilman Paul Koretz would include the tax increase on medical marijuana sales but would also reduce the number by limiting those allowed to the pre-September 2007 marijuana collectives. It would also include limitations on hours of operation, require background checks for collective employees and require dispensaries to be certain distances from each other and sensitive uses like schools and childcare locations.

The city attorney is expected to present draft language for Koretz's ballot measure next week. The council has until the end of the month to agree to place the finalized language on the ballot.

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