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L.A. Residents to Vote on 2 Marijuana Initiatives, Possibly 3

The Los Angeles City Council gave final approval today to placing two initiatives on the May 21 ballot aimed at regulating medical marijuana dispensaries, and gave preliminary backing to a third measure that Councilman Paul Koretz called a "superior" hybrid of the other two.

The vote on Koretz's proposal was not unanimous -- with council members Joe Buscaino, Mitch Englander, Jose Huizar, and Bernard Parks objecting -- meaning it must come back to the council for final approval next week.

The two petition-driven initiatives that received final approval today both address medical marijuana issues, but using different tactics.

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

A second so-called "limited immunity" initiative 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 tried to place a moratorium on new dispensaries.

The backers of the second proposal -- United Food and Commercial Workers Local 770, the Greater Los Angeles Collective Alliance, and Americans for Safe Access L.A. -- announced Monday they were abandoning support of their initiative in favor of Koretz's proposal, although all the issues will still appear on the ballot.

Koretz's measure would include the tax increase on medical marijuana sales but also reduce the number of dispensaries 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 such sensitive facilities as schools and childcare centers.

Koretz said the measure is one that "will maintain enough access for patients, one that protects communities, and one that represents a consensus among the many different interests and stakeholders."

"I think the best course for us is to offer the voters this third better alternative, which combines the revenue-raising provisions of one of the two ballot measures with sensible controls on the numbers, locations, and operations of dispensaries," he said. "This will ensure reasonable access but still protect our neighborhoods.

"I agree with anyone who will say that three measures on the same issue on the same ballot is confusing," he added. "Still on balance, this seems like the far most prudent way to go. I know it's been a long road on this issue. I know we all have opinions on what we did right and what we didn't. But today I ask that we move forward together, give the voters the superior option and start protecting patients and communities at the same time."

Huizar has consistently opposed the medial marijuana proposals, saying 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.

In announcing support for Koretz's proposal, UFCW Local 770 President Rick Icaza said the measure "combines the best elements of our earlier version with additional revenues for public services."

Koretz said he included the increased tax on marijuana in his proposal because it would be "a big carrot" for voters. The revenue could also cover the cost for the city to enforce the new ordinance, he said.

Koretz noted that the signature-driven initiative that includes the tax would not reduce the number of storefront dispensaries, including some that create problems for neighborhoods.

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