L.A. City Council To Remove Marijuana “Hardship” Exemption

In what will be a disappointing move for medical marijuana providers and beneficiaries, the Los Angeles City Council is in preparation to close a legal exemption to the city’s marijuana law. Voters may remember when, in 1996, they approved Proposition 215 (the Compassionate Use Act), which made legal the production and consumption of marijuana for medically prescribed pain relief with a doctor’s approval. However, because “the spirit and intent of Proposition 215 has been exploited and abused for both profit and recreational drug abuse by many of the medical marijuana dispensaries in the City of Los Angeles” the city council voted in 2007 to adopt Interim Control Ordinance (ICO). The ICO effectively halted the creation of any new dispensaries but did allow an exemption for those dispensaries that could prove they faced “hardship” and could provide an adequate reason why they should be allowed to open. Councilman Greig Smith now recognizes the exemption as a “tragic mistake.”

According to a motion filed by Planning and Land Use Management, due to the hardship exemption many L.A. neighborhoods “have been inundated with dispensaries… [that] have flourished throughout the city.” They estimate that there are around 287 exemption applications pending before the council. For one reason or another (perhaps because there are simply too many) the City has not, up until a few days ago, acted on a single exemption request. Legally, what this means is that any dispensary that has filed an exemption request is safe from prosecution. Because their application for an exemption has not been heard, the City Attorney is forced to allow even the dispensaries that filed for exemption without any obvious hardship to remain in business.   As is highlighted by Council Member Jose Huizar, something needs to be done to “give teeth to an Interim Control Ordinance that currently has none.”

Tuesday, June 16, the L.A. City Council took their first step towards doing exactly that. In a unanimous vote, council members instructed the city attorney to draft a revised ordinance that would be without a hardship exemption and also would extend the ban on new dispensaries for an additional six months. As with the previous ICO, the new ordinance will not affect dispensaries that opened on or before November 13th, 2007. But all other dispensaries will have to wait until March before they can open up shop. The city attorney is expected to present the revised ordinance to council members on Friday (June, 19th), where it will likely pass without trouble.

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