LOS ANGELES (AP) — The Los Angeles City Council voted Tuesday to ban hundreds of medical marijuana dispensaries that have cropped up across the city.
The council in the nation’s second-largest city acted after some residents said the pot shops have been a blight on neighborhoods. City officials estimate there could be more than 900 collectives open currently.
Many cities have struggled with medical marijuana ordinances but none has had a bigger problem than Los Angeles, where pot shops have proliferated. At one point, the city ordered closure of the shops — a process that failed amid lawsuits and conflicting rulings by appellate courts.
The so-called “gentle ban” eliminates storefronts but allows patients and caregivers to grow medical marijuana.
The city has fumbled with its medical marijuana laws for years, trying to provide safe and affordable access to the drug for legitimate patients while addressing worries by neighborhood groups that streets were being overrun by dispensaries and pot users.
Medical marijuana advocates and residents squared off again in front of the council on Tuesday, with some civic leaders saying efforts made during the past few years haven’t done any good.
“We need to start with a clean slate,” said Councilman Mitchell Englander. “Los Angeles has experimented with marijuana and has failed.”
The ban comes during a confusing time for Californians despite voter approval in 1996 for medicinal use of marijuana with a doctor’s recommendation. The state Supreme Court has decided to clarify marijuana’s hazy legal status by addressing whether local governments can ban medical marijuana clinics. But a hearing has yet to be set by the high court.
Meanwhile, U.S. authorities have cracked down on pot clinics around the state, saying such operations remain illegal under federal law.
Los Angeles passed an ordinance two years ago that was supposed to shutter hundreds of pot dispensaries while capping the number in operation at 70. But a set of legal challenges against the city by collectives and last month’s expiration of the ordinance thanks to a sundowner clause led to another surge of pot shops. City officials said 762 collectives have registered with the city and as many as 200 more could exist.
At least 178 California cities from Calistoga to Camarillo and 20 counties already have banned retail pot shops, according to the medical marijuana advocacy group Americans for Safe Access.
However, reflecting the murky language of the state’s medical marijuana laws, a handful of dispensaries have successfully challenged such local prohibitions in court along with laws that merely sought to regulate dispensaries.
Most recently, an appeals court in Southern California struck down Los Angeles County’s two-year-old ban on dispensaries, ruling that state law allows cooperatives and collectives to grow, store and distribute pot. But in a separate case, an appeals court said federal law preempts local municipalities from allowing pot clinics.
The hearing came a day after a priest, drug counselors and others decried crime and other social problems they say surround neighborhood marijuana dispensaries.
Among those who spoke at that gathering was a woman who complained about having to push her baby’s stroller through clouds of marijuana smoke near dispensaries in her East Hollywood neighborhood.
Daniel Sosa, a medical marijuana advocate, told council members during the hearing it’s fruitless to approve a ban that won’t have any merit and will likely lead to more lawsuits.
“If you can’t enforce it, why are you going to pass something?” Sosa asked the council.