Measures to Limit Medical Marijuana Shops, Overturn Citizens United Win in L.A.

The number of medical marijuana dispensaries will be limited in Los Angeles and the tax on the drug will be higher under a regulation measure approved by voters.

Faced with a trio of proposed marijuana-regulation proposals on Tuesday's ballot, voters approved Proposition D, a City Council-sponsored measure that restricts the number of dispensaries to the 135 that registered with the city before September 2007.

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The measure also includes restrictions on the location and operation of the dispensaries, and increases the tax imposed on dispensary sales from $50 to $60 per $1,000. In 2012, the city collected $2.5 million through taxing the gross receipts of marijuana dispensaries.

The three medical marijuana measures on Tuesday's ballot were the culmination of years of debate over regulation and taxation of the operations. All three were aimed at preventing the shops from being shuttered, but they differed on the number that would be allowed to operate.

Of the three measures, only two were actively backed by their respective campaigns. Ordinance E was abandoned by the group that collected petitions to get it on the ballot. They opted to throw their support behind Proposition D when the council voted to put it before voters.

Ordinance F, which did not include a cap on the number of dispensaries, was handily defeated.

Supporters of both D and F insisted their respective measures would allow marijuana dispensaries to open as long as they follow a set of criteria and regulations, including submitting to background checks and setting up shop a safe distance from places frequented by children.

There were some differences in the proposed regulations, with each campaign claiming to have better or stronger criteria.

Proposition D proponents said the measure's regulations adhere closer to existing state and federal requirements and had a better chance of being enforced. But Ordinance F proponents insisted they had stronger restrictions, such as not allowing children into their dispensaries and requiring not just background checks, which both measures require, but also testing of volunteers and workers.

Ordinance F would have set a 500-foot distance between shops and parks, child care facilities, and other similarly "sensitive" sites, while Proposition D ups that distance to 600 feet. Both measures required a 1,000- foot buffer between medical marijuana businesses and schools.

Under Proposition D, the businesses will be allowed to operate between 10 a.m. and 8 p.m. Ordinance F would have allowed the stores to stay open until 10 p.m.

Ordinance F would have also required a 500-foot buffer between stores, which the measure's proponents say would have addressed concerns about stores proliferating and concentrating in specific neighborhoods. They claimed that because of zoning restrictions and other buffer requirements, only about 350 dispensaries would actually be allowed to open within the city.

Council members Paul Koretz and Bill Rosendahl, both outspoken supporters of Proposition D, said the measure strikes a balance between giving people with serious illnesses access to an effective pain reliever -- as was intended under a 1996 voter-approved state initiative -- while also curbing "illegal" shops selling marijuana for recreational use.

The number of collectives in Los Angeles experienced a surge in recent years, climbing to more than 850 dispensaries and prompting some residents to complain that pot shops were growing out of control and contributing to crime.

The council in the last few years has gone back and forth on banning medical marijuana shops, most recently attempting a so-called "gentle ban" that would still allow patients and licensed caregivers, as well as collectives of three or fewer people, to grow their own cannabis for medical use.

The two original petition-driven initiatives were proposed to repeal the gentle ban, but city leaders stepped in with Proposition D, which they touted as a "superior" hybrid, combining Ordinance E's restriction of dispensaries to the 135 that registered before September 2007 with the tax hike provision from Ordinance F.

Meanwhile, voters overwhelmingly supported a fourth ballot measure, Proposition C, which is a symbolic resolution calling on Los Angeles to support federal legislation that would overturn parts of the U.S. Supreme Court's rulings in the cases of Buckley v. Valea in 1976 and Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission in 2010.

The rulings have allowed corporations, labor unions, and other organizations to be viewed as human beings, giving them wide latitude to participate in political campaigns by contributing unrestricted amounts of money to independent campaign expenditure committees.

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