Medical Marijuana Measure Qualifies for L.A. Ballot

A city initiative that would apparently allow continued operation of about 100 medical marijuana shops in Los Angeles is significantly closer to enactment, the city clerk disclosed today.

City Clerk June Lagmay determined through a sampling process that backers of the initiative to allow and regulate a certain number of storefront medical marijuana shops have gathered the necessary 41,138 signatures.

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The measure would reduce by hundreds the number of pot shops operating in the city, but it would allow continued operation of about 100. The City Council now may decide whether to enact the measure on its own or put the proposal before voters.

The initiative, dubbed the "Medical Marijuana Collectives Initiative Ordinance," would put into effect various restrictions on pot-shop operations, including hours of operation and location. If enacted, the measure would reduce the number of medical marijuana stores from somewhere in the hundreds down to about 100.

Key to hitting that target is a provision that would require medical cannabis dispensaries to prove they were operating before Sept. 14, 2007. That is when the city first tried to place a moratorium on new pot shops.

The clerk's certification sends the initiative to the City Council that can adopt the ordinance as is, call a special election, or place the item on the May 21 general municipal election ballot. That election in May will include the race for various city offices, including mayor. The City Council is expected to make a decision on the pot shop measure this month.

The group sponsoring the initiative is called the Committee to Protect Patients and Neighborhoods. It is made up of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 770, the Greater Los Angeles Collective Alliance, and Americans for Safe Access L.A. UFCW Local 770 President Rick Icaza said the initiative would "guarantee safe access to medical cannabis for those suffering from debilitating and painful diseases and conditions, while at the same time enforcing the rule of law and protecting neighborhoods."

"It's time to stop playing politics with people's health and the safety of our communities," Icaza added, referring to the city's years of attempts to regulate medical marijuana. That battle culminated in an attempt in July to ban storefront dispensaries from Los Angeles. That effort was reversed in October when medical marijuana supporters gathered enough signatures to repeal the ban, leaving dispensaries unregulated and possibly illegal. The issue has been the target of lawsuits and conflicting court opinions.

City Councilman Paul Koretz has been pushing an ordinance similar to the ballot measure.

"Patients need safe access," said Freddie Metcalf, who uses medical cannabis to treat symptoms from Sarcoidosis, a disease in which inflammation occurs in the lymph nodes, lungs, liver, eyes, skin, or other tissues.

Icaza urged the City Council to adopt the ordinance instead of placing it on the ballot.

Meanwhile, a group backing a separate medical marijuana initiative last month submitted more than 73,500 petition signatures to qualify a measure that would place similar time and place restrictions on dispensaries, but would not limit the number to those that opened prior to the Sept. 14, 2007 cutoff. That initiative backed by a group called Angelenos for Safe Access would allow any storefront medical cannabis collectives that are at least 500 to 1,000 feet from schools, parks, libraries, childcare centers and religious institutions and would also impose a business tax of $60 on every $1,000 of marijuana sold at the dispensaries.

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