Weed Wacker

What Will Los Angeles’ Ban on Medical Marijuana Dispensaries Mean?

Places that sell marijuana have been banned by the Los Angeles city council. Or have they? We tackle you questions big and small.

Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images

Ban? What ban?

On July 24, 2012, the Los Angeles city council voted 14 to 0 to ban all the city’s marijuana dispensaries.

Wait—I thought pot was legal in California? Everyone there was happy about it.

It’s not that simple. In 1996, the public voted in favor of the Compassionate Care Act, and in 2004 the state authorized non-profit cooperatives to sell medical marijuana. Supporters of the ban argue that those cooperatives in fact make substantial profits, evade taxes, have spread and come to dominate some neighborhoods, and are magnets for crimes large and small. Opponents of the ban say the overwhelming majority of dispensaries operate discreetly and within the law.

Are there really more pot dispensaries than Starbucks in Los Angeles?

That’s the claim of Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Krekorian. He says there are 762 registered dispensaries in the city of Los Angeles, but that the actual total is closer to 1,000.

Will the ban actually happen?

Too soon to tell. Absent voluntary compliance with the ban, the police would need to be given resources to forcibly shut down potentially hundreds of dispensaries; few observers think that’s likely. Earlier attempts to reform dispensaries have met with fierce legal challenges; there’s no reason to think that won’t happen with the ban, possibly leading to it being delayed or invalidated.

Weren’t there exceptions made by the city council?

Sort of. The council voted in favor of permitting up to 182 shops that existed before 2008 to stay open if they conform to stricter rules.

How did it come to this?

Backers of the ban say that steps toward reforming how dispensaries operate in Los Angeles could have been made but lawsuits prevented even small changes, leaving lawmakers no other choice. Opponents of the ban say the council and city attorneys have intended to close dispensaries all along.

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What if my “medical issue” requires getting some marijuana ASAP? Am I too late?

The ban will take effect in 30 days after Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa signs the bill into law. As of July 25, the bill is unsigned.

Speaking of signing documents, what kind of documentation do I need to get pot in California?

Any doctor who’s licensed to practice medicine can prescribe it.

Can I smoke it in the street?

You can smoke it anywhere you can smoke cigarettes, but most medical marijuana advocates urge patients to show discretion and smoke in private.

Back to the ban. Will I need to go to San Francisco to get my stuff?

No. There are dispensaries in Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, and Compton, all of which are in Los Angeles County.

Isn’t this bad news for a city that can use every ounce (ahem) of revenue it can find?

It sure is, says Don Duncan, the California director of Americans for Safe Access. Not only do dispensaries pay sales tax (which goes to the state), but they pay the city a business-licensing fee of five percent of gross receipts. Revenue from dispensaries generated $2 million in revenue for Los Angeles in just the first quarter of 2012.

Is it just the city council of Los Angles that’s concerned about dispensaries?

No. The number of dispensaries has been a cause of concern in other parts of the state. In the nearby City of West Hollywood, for example, there is an ordinance allowing a maximum of four dispensaries.

I seem to recall some sort of ongoing fight between the federal government and California over this issue?

Yes, and there is potentially an even greater one in Colorado, Washington, and Oregon. In each of those states, there will be ballot initiatives in November of 2012 potentially leading to full legalization.

Does the public want marijuana legalized?

50 percent of Americans favor legalizing marijuana, according to an October 2009 Gallup poll. 46 percent oppose it, with adults over 65 opposing it the most.

What kinds of colorfully named strains of marijuana can I buy at a pot dispensary?

The Hi Point dispensary in Los Angeles offers “King Louis,” “Snoops Marley,” “Sticky Rose,” “Cactus Cooler Kush,” and “Purple Bubba,” among many others.

What do the people working at the dispensaries have to say about all this?

Most are upset, but at least one struck us as, shall we say, mellow. “It’s never affected anyone around here,” a man answering the phone at the Hi Point dispensary said of the ban. “If it hits us, it hits us.”