Will Pot Shops Be Legal in Los Angeles?

Welcome to Los Angeles where pot shops are legal, maybe, or used to be, or might be in the future. In the past the City of Angels has tried, and seemingly failed, to regular or prohibit pot shops. The City Council banned pot dispensaries, but then lifted the ban. There are approximately 700 to 1,000 pot shops in the City.

Because this is Los Angeles, it looks like the voters will weigh in. But because it is Los Angeles they might not. Welcome to local politics.

Thus far the City Council has failed to put forward specific plans. Two groups, both medical marijuana advocates, are proposing competing ballot initiatives. One measure would allow people who have passed a background check to sell medical marijuana and would increase taxes on medical marijuana by approximately 20%. The increased tax revenue would like pay for the increased cost of regulation, and is also the reason the measure must go to a vote of the people. Owners and operators of those businesses would also have to abide by other requirements, such limited operating hours as zoning laws. Proponents of the measure contend that because of the zoning requirements, which would keep pot shops away from schools and parks, the number of pot shops in the city would be about 150.

The other measure would allow only those pot shops that were open before September 2007, when the City imposed a ban on new shops, to stay in business. That would mean about 100 pot shops would be allowed to operate in the City. Because this measure does not include a tax increase, it may not be put to a vote of the people.

Law makers and enforces in Los Angeles still have to contend with competing state and federal laws. Under state law it is legal to possess medical marijuana and for pot shops to sell it. However, under federal law it is still illegal to possess and sell marijuana.

It will be interested to see how much of an issue this topic becomes as the race to become the next mayor of Los Angeles heats up.

If the City Council fails to act first, it looks like voters in Los Angeles will weigh in on these competing measures in May.

Jessica Levinson writes about the intersection of law and government every Monday. She is an Associate Clinical Professor at Loyola Law School. Read more of her posts here.