LOS ANGELES — The City Council gave final approval Tuesday to a much-anticipated ordinance that will close most pot dispensaries and curb the so-called "Green Rush" that swept through much of California in recent years.
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The ordinance, which passed 9-3, caps the number of dispensaries at 70 and provides guidelines that will push the clinics out of neighborhoods and into industrial areas.
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa must approve the ordinance for it to take effect. City officials believe it will be at least 45 days before they can enforce the new rules.
Enforcement could be a major effort for the cash-strapped city. No one is exactly sure how many pot clinics there are in Los Angeles — the best estimate is somewhere between 800 and 1,000 — and getting the owners to comply with the ordinance will likely meet resistance.
"I don't want to say this is an impossible task, but it's going to take a lot more effort than maybe the city realizes at this point," said Robert Mikos, a law professor specializing in federalism and crime policy at Vanderbilt University Law School. "Just because the city says, 'stop what you are doing,' doesn't mean (dispensary owners) are going to give up easily."
One possible option for dispensaries is to seek an injunction to stop the city from enforcing its ordinance.
The ordinance calls for spreading the 70 clinics evenly throughout the city with a community districting plan. For instance, the Wilshire area west of downtown would have six clinics — the most under the new law — while places such as free-spirited Venice, with 17 currently, would only have one.
Clinics to be 1,000 feet from schools, parks
City officials would require dispensaries to be at least 1,000 feet from "sensitive uses" such as schools, parks and other gathering sites. Most clinics would have to relocate, presumably to industrial areas, a move criticized by some medical marijuana advocates who say patients will have to travel long distances to get their medicine.
The number of clinics has exploded. More than 600 have opened over the past 10 months, despite a 2007 city moratorium prohibiting new medical marijuana dispensaries. The shop owners took advantage of a loophole known as a hardship exemption that allowed them to open while awaiting city approval.
More than 180 clinics qualified to remain open because they were established before the ban was enacted. About 137 of those sites still operate and would be allowed to remain open if they meet other requirements in the new ordinance.
City Council members have fumbled with an ordinance for years, trying to come up with language that jibes with state law. Only four dispensaries were open in 2005, when discussions first began.
The outlook for medical marijuana in Los Angeles remains hazy. Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley has said he will target pot clinics that profit and sell to people who don't qualify for medical marijuana.
While the ordinance says no collective can operate for profit, cash and in-kind contributions as well as "reasonable compensation" would be allowed.
The new ordinance follows a recent California Supreme Court decision that struck down a law seeking to impose limits on the amount of marijuana a patient can possess. It also came months before a possible ballot measure seeking the legalization of marijuana in California.
Fourteen states, including California, permit medical marijuana. The drug, however, remains illegal under federal law.
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