The City of Los Angeles recently has taken a drastic step in passing a local ordinance banning the establishment and operation of medical marijuana collectives and cooperatives, also known as medical marijuana dispensaries.  As of August 2012, the City of Los Angeles had passed Ordinance No. 182190 and the Los Angeles Office of the City Attorney had sent out cease and desist letters to hundreds of medical marijuana collectives and cooperatives operating within the city limits.  The letter threatens severe penalties for non-compliance including court-ordered closures, monetary penalties of up to $2,500 per day, as well as criminal prosecutions for misdemeanors punishable by up to six months in county jail and fines of $1,000.  The dispensaries have been order to close by September 6, 2012.

The ordinance banning, rather than regulating, all dispensaries in Los Angeles, is draconian for several additional reasons.  First of all, the ban follows years of negotiations as well as litigation involving the City of Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Office of the City Attorney, medical marijuana dispensaries and their attorneys including both civil and criminal defense attorneys.  These negotiations involving various stakeholders sought to come up with a sensible plan regulating the distribution of medical marijuana in order to reconcile various concerns of the Los Angeles community, including concerns for public safety and safe and meaningful access to medical marijuana by medical marijuana patients and caregivers.  The total ban on dispensaries is no doubt a bad faith slap in the face to the medical marijuana community and all Los Angeles citizens of good will and common sense.

Another reason why the Los Angeles city ban is extreme is that it attacks all individuals associating for the purpose of cultivating and distributing medical marijuana, not just storefront dispensaries.  The City of Los Angeles Ordinance No. 182190, specifically Section, outlaws all medical marijuana collectives and cooperatives by providing that: “It is unlawful to own, establish, operate, use or permit the establishment or operation of a medical marijuana business, or to participate as an employee, contractor, agent or volunteer, or in any manner or capacity in any medical marijuana business.”  The Ordinance further provides that the prohibited conduct includes “renting, leasing, or otherwise permitting a medical marijuana business to occupy or use a location, vehicle, or other mode of transportation.”  Further, the Ordinance defines a medical marijuana business as “any location where marijuana is cultivated, processed, distributed, delivered or given away to a qualified patient, a person with a [medical marijuana] identification card, or a primary caregiver.”

The Los Angeles medical marijuana dispensary ban is extreme because of its totality, as it does not leave any room for any viable distribution of medical marijuana within the city.  The new ordinance punishes anyone who is even remotely involved in any act facilitating legitimate cultivation and distribution of medical marijuana between and among legitimate patients in Los Angeles.  The scope of the prohibition on all “medical marijuana businesses” includes, among other things, collectives and cooperatives organized as mobile vendors and, it appears, also any and all individuals involved in the transportation of medical marijuana to other patients.

To be sure, the ordinance pretends to allow some medical marijuana collectives and cooperatives to exist.  It excludes from the prohibition collective cultivation in a dwelling unit by a maximum of three qualified patients and primary caregivers.  This is a cynical, farcical and completely illusory attempt to portray the ban as somehow reasonable and fair.  To limit the size of a medical marijuana collective or cooperative to three individuals is plainly unreasonable.  However, to mandate that cultivation must take place at “a dwelling unit” is laughable and grotesque.  Such a provision is not warranted by anything in the California state law or common sense.  The Los Angeles ban is a blatant attempt to outlaw all marijuana cultivation and to prohibit all safe and meaningful access to medical marijuana, except through an illegal dealer on the street.  It is clear that most medical marijuana patients lack the skill and the financial means to cultivate marijuana by themselves, let alone when they are forced to do so in their own bedroom in groups of no larger than three.

The adoption of the ban by the Los Angeles City Council will surely result in new raids and waves of repression by the law enforcement, including the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) and other constituents and beneficiaries of the war-on-drugs policies and funding. As cultivation and distribution of medical marijuana is unavoidably moved underground, the only other beneficiaries will be local Los Angeles criminal medical marijuana defense attorneys as the number of criminal prosecutions, even for minor possession of marijuana, is likely to spike and overwhelm the already distressed Los Angeles court system.  The medical marijuana community, and the Los Angeles community at large, are going to be sure losers as the repression and costly prosecutions escalate.

It is very likely that as you read this information it has already become out of date.  The status of medical marijuana dispensaries in Los Angeles has and will continue to change at a very fast pace.  The 2012 ordinance that in effect banned all medical marijuana collectives and cooperatives will no doubt result in new lawsuits and court decisions including decisions by the California Supreme Court.  Also under way is what appears to be a viable effort to put the matter of medical marijuana dispensaries to a referendum to be decided by the Los Angeles voters, perhaps as early as March 2013.  If there are enough signatures to compel a referendum, the current ban will most likely be stayed.

To get the up-to-date information on the Los Angeles medical marijuana dispensaries, we encourage you to contact one of the attorneys in our law firm.