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L.A. orders 439 medical marijuana dispensaries to close

May 7, 2010

L.A. orders 439 medical marijuana

dispensaries to close

The shops must close before a long-debated city ordinance takes effect June 7, or face criminal and civil penalties. About 130 dispensaries that registered with the city could be allowed to stay open.

Interactive map of dispensaries told to close

May 05, 2010|By John Hoeffel, Los Angeles Times

Los Angeles city prosecutors began notifying 439 medical marijuana dispensaries Tuesday that they must shut down by June 7, when the city’s ordinance to regulate the stores takes effect. It’s the first step in what could be a lengthy and expensive legal battle to regain control over pot sales.

The letters, which were sent to both dispensary operators and property owners, warn that violations of the city’s laws are a misdemeanor and could lead to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. Collectives that stay open after the deadline could also face civil penalties of $2,500 a day.

“We’re hopeful that the fact that we’ve given them more than 30 days to comply that a significant number of them will cease operating,” said Asha Greenberg, the assistant city attorney who has handled most of the efforts to close dispensaries.

Los Angeles became the epicenter of the state’s dispensary boom last year, following the Obama administration‘s announcement that it would not prosecute medical marijuana stores that adhered to state law. Although the city had a moratorium on new dispensaries, it failed to enforce the ban and hundreds opened with no oversight, triggering complaints from neighborhood activists.

The letters were welcomed by city officials and activists as a sign that the contentious issue, which was first considered by the City Council five years ago, is nearing a resolution.

“We’ve arrived. It’s like being on a journey and saying, ‘Are we there yet? Are we there yet?’ ” said Councilman Ed Reyes, who oversaw the laborious process that led to an ordinance after two years of debate. “It feels good that we have finally reached this threshold.”

Michael Larsen, the incoming president of the Eagle Rock Neighborhood Council, was the most tenacious spokesman for residents worried about unregulated dispensaries. “There’s actually something happening based on an ordinance that we worked very hard to get into place. On that level, I am relieved,” he said. “The truth about the actual enforcement, that will just be a big question mark.”

Under the new ordinance, only dispensaries that registered with the city after the council adopted the moratorium in 2007 will be allowed to operate. City officials estimate that more than 130 of the original 186 registered dispensaries are still in business.

The Los Angeles Police Department cased the city to try to find every dispensary. Estimates from city officials and medical marijuana activists had ranged as high as 1,000. But Capt. Kevin McCarthy, who heads the LAPD’s Gangs and Narcotics Division, said, “We came up with less than 600, which is good.”

Greenberg said the city attorney’s office will send out more letters if residents point out additional dispensaries. “We’re making our best efforts, and we’re using information from really our eyes and ears out there, which is the community,” she said.

Interactive map of dispensaries told to close

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