March 2, 2010

LA Being Sued For Medical Marijuana Dispensary Ordinance

March 2, 2010

The medical marijuana group ‘Americans for Safe Access’ (ASA), along with other plaintiffs, filed a lawsuit against the City of Los Angeles today, over the recent ordinance that would set a cap on marijuana dispensaries at 70 (see the link). The ordinance, which passed on February 3rd, also requires dispensaries to be at least 1,000 feet from schools, parks, libraries, churches, and cannot be next to or across from a residential area.

“The dispensary ordinance passed by the Los Angeles City Council might have been reasonable, if not for some onerous provisions,” said ASA Chief Counsel Joe Elford. “The requirement to find a new location within 7 days is completely unreasonable and undermines the due process of otherwise legal medical marijuana dispensaries.”

Other plaintiffs in the lawsuit include Venice Beach Care Center and PureLife Alternative Wellness Center, two long time LA dispensaries. “We want to work with the city to comply with its regulations, but such unreasonable requirements make compliance impossible,” said Yamileth Bolanos of PureLife Alternative Wellness Center. “We are more than willing to negotiate a compromise that would cut short costly litigation.”

A very interesting fact from the link is that LA Police Chief Charlie Beck recently commissioned a study that compared LA bank and dispensary robberies. The study found that 350 banks had been robbed 71 times. 500 dispensaries in the survey were only robbed 47 times. To quote Chief Beck “banks are more likely to get robbed than medical marijuana dispensaries,” and the claim that dispensaries attract crime “doesn’t really bear out.”

So where do things go from here? A judge or panel is going to review the lawsuit first to see if there is any merit. This is a civil court case against the government, which is not the same as a criminal trial where someone is found ‘guilty.’ Courts don’t proceed forward on every case that is presented, they review it first to see if it is worthy of going to trial. Considering the ordinance is so comprehensive and strict, I predict it will move forward without any issues.

From there the plaintiffs will have to argue that this ordinance is placing an undue burden on their businesses, and that there are other, less drastic options that could have been pursued. An ordinance alone is not unconstitutional, but one that is as sweeping as this one goes past the line in my opinion. I think when all is said and done, some of the provisions will be held constitutional (such as within 1,000 feet of a school or public park), and some will be tossed out (such as the residential requirements). The ordinance will be tossed out and the City of LA will have to redo the ordinance to comply with the court ruling. Whether or not the dispensaries will get retribution after that, only time (and another lawsuit) will tell.

Residential areas and commercial areas are zoned in LA for a reason. It separates business properties from residential properties, with very distinct boundaries, city codes, and is backed by state statutes. To create a ‘buffer zone’ that extends even farther is unconstitutional, unless the ‘buffer zone’ applies to all businesses, unless the city can show that there was no other way they could achieve the same goals of regulation. Regardless of who wins this first round in civil court, it will almost certainly be appealed. Until the State of California steps up and puts together a statewide, comprehensive medical marijuana bill, this fight will rage on.


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