The City Council's Public Safety Committee today advanced two competing plans over how to regulate the distribution of medical marijuana to the full council, which will have the final say on the issue.
The committee debated the two plans and voted 3-1 in favor of a proposal by Councilman Jose Huizar that would ban all dispensaries in the city, but allow patients and licensed caregivers to grow and transport medical marijuana. It would also allow mini-collectives of three or fewer people to jointly grow and share marijuana.
The committee also voted 3-1 to advance, without support, a plan by Councilman Paul Koretz to shut down most dispensaries, but provide immunity for an estimated 100 dispensaries that existed prior to 2007 and that abide by a strict set of regulations on location, hours of operation and security provisions.
The advancement of both proposals set up what is expected to be a dramatic final hearing and debate by a divided City Council, after five years of attempting to regulate medical marijuana distribution in the city.
Councilman Dennis Zine voted against both proposals during the committee meeting, which was held in Van Nuys.
Recent court cases have called into question the ability of municipalities to regulate dispensaries. An appeals court ruled in October that regulating dispensaries effectively allowed the use of marijuana, which is a federally banned substance. The California Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case.
Public Safety Committee Chairman Councilman Mitchell Englander cited crime as a main reason for supporting a ban on dispensaries. He narrated a litany of serious crimes committed at or near dispensaries, including murder, rape, robbery and assaults.
"It's not about the few bad apples that have spoiled it...it's about the many that have spoiled it for the few (good apples)," Englander said.
Councilman Paul Krekorian told the committee and an audience of medical marijuana patients and supporters that he was conflicted about how to vote. Krekorian said he wants to preserve the intent of 1996's Proposition 215, which authorized medical marijuana use by legitimate patients.
He added, however, "We are left right now in the worst of all possible worlds. We have an out-of-control proliferation of dispensaries through this city which is flooding our communities, causing adverse impacts and bringing a bad name to those who want to legitimately do what the voters thought we were doing when we voted for (medical marijuana), which is to provide safe access to cancer patients and others who want to legitimately use marijuana as a drug."
Krekorian disagreed that public safety is a reason to ban dispensaries.
"We have crime around liquor stores, too...We have crimes around every kind of business, and yet, we aren't banning that entire line of business," Krekorian said.
The committee heard testimony from about a dozen medical marijuana supporters and patients, who urged the council to keep dispensaries open. Supporters disputed the idea that dispensaries breed crime and argued that banning them would create more public safety hazards by forcing patients to buy marijuana on the black market from drug cartels.
Sarah Armstrong, a legal adviser to the Greater Los Angeles Collective Alliance, told the committee that banning dispensaries would bring an "enormous tsunami" of lawsuits.
Several Studio City residents testified in favor of the ban, saying that there are at least 12 dispensaries in the Studio City area.
"That's way to many for 38,000 people," said Studio City Neighborhood Council Vice President Lisa Sarkin.