updated 3/2/2010 5:25:50 PM ET 2010-03-02T22:25:50

A lawsuit filed Tuesday challenges Los Angeles' crackdown on medical marijuana dispensaries, claiming it would force nearly all of them to close.

The suit by the country's largest medical marijuana advocacy group accuses the city of violating the state constitutional rights of pot clinic operators and claims the city ordinance "deprives the seriously ill of the medicine promised them by the electorate and the Legislature of California."

It wants a judge to permanently prevent the new law from being enforced and to award damages.

City attorney's spokesman Frank Mateljan had no immediate comment.

The suit was filed by two dispensaries, Venice Beach Care Center and PureLife Alternative Wellness Center, and their operators, who claim they have been unable to find new locations. It also was filed by Oakland-based Americans for Free Access, a nonprofit that has more than 30,000 members in more than 40 states.

California voters passed a law in 1996 that legalized marijuana use for medical reasons, but it didn't say anything about distribution. So some cities have permitted dispensaries to flourish while others, such as Costa Mesa and Fresno, have effectively banned them and arrested owners.

Los Angeles has been struggling for years with the issue of controlling dispensaries. The ordinance that the mayor signed last month caps the number of dispensaries in the city at 70.

City officials have estimated there could be as many as 1,000 outlets in the city and that some sell pot as a business. Last month, the city filed lawsuits and eviction notices against 21 dispensaries and arrested one owner.

The lawsuit filed Tuesday in Los Angeles County Superior Court claims the pot ordinance is unreasonable. It says dispensaries have only seven days after the measure takes effect March 14 to find a new location if they are within 1,000 feet (300 meters) of schools, churches, parks or other "sensitive areas." The ordinance also bars dispensaries from locating near homes and apartment buildings.

The city, however, failed to create maps of approved locations before the ordinance was passed despite two years of work on the regulations, the suit said.

The measure violates due process and will force "the vast majority" of medical marijuana collectives to close, the suit contends.

The Obama administration announced last year that people complying with state marijuana laws would not face federal arrest. But they are subject to local laws.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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