By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
By Dennis Romero
San Francisco County Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi tells the Weekly, “No senior public official, not public health, not the police, not the district attorney, not the mayor, not the city attorney wanted to touch this.” But the default position of “nonregulating was a free-for-all, complete chaos” in San Francisco, says Mirkarimi. So Mirkarimi, who strongly advocated for medical marijuana, worked with true stakeholders to create an 88-page ordinance within a year. After that, San Francisco launched a big shutdown of dispensaries buying from shady sources or reaping profits, wiping out half of San Francisco’s 46 pot outlets, which now number 23.
In Los Angeles, it appears that the personal fact-finding mission only went as far as reading the Los Angeles Times. After the newspaper reported in June that a mind-boggling 600 pot dispensaries had defied the City Council’s ban, using the weird loophole of claiming fiscal “hardship” to open a pot shop, Garcetti suddenly sprang into action.
In the following June 8, 2009, e-mail obtained by the Weekly, Garcetti aide Wong writes to Jessica Tarman, Councilman Zine’s spokeswoman, who was organizing a press conference about the Times’ explosive findings.
Wong: “It might be helpful to have something so that we help shape the story (e.g., ‘Council to Consider Stricter Rules for Medical Marijuana Dispensaries’ rather than ‘City has no rules for pot sales’).”
Tarman: “I like that, good idea.”
Tarman sent out a media advisory to journalists that read: “Council to Consider Stricter Rules for Medicinal Marijuana Dispensaries.” A talking-point sheet, written by Tarman, states that Garcetti will “share the impact these dispensaries have in his district and convey the determination of the Council to solve these problems,” and Reyes will “address the steps that PLUM [Planning and Land Use Management committee] is taking to draft a permanent ordinance and the process for consideration of remaining hardships exemptions.”
Although the City Council began denying “hardship” claims by new pot dispensaries after the figure had skyrocketed to more than 800, no one on the council conducted a real investigation of the impact. Several days ago, after the council and Villaraigosa returned from a National League of Cities meeting in San Antonio, the Times ran its story about Duncan and West Hollywood’s “model” — a theme Duncan tried to persuade the Weekly to pursue a few days earlier, timed to coincide with a big combined meeting of two City Council committees that pledged to finally act on regulating pot.
At the combined meeting of PLUM and the Public Safety committees, jammed with pot store operators and advocates, several council members suddenly voiced a strong preference — for copying West Hollywood.
Over the years, council members have looked to Reyes for guidance on the issue. E-mails obtained by the Weekly show that Reyes, in turn, looks to Duncan. In e-mails sent by Reyes’ staff to Duncan, Reyes asks the pot advocate for face-to-face meetings, for his take on the city attorney’s draft ordinance and for a list of Duncan’s “deal breakers.” Reyes now admits he never seriously checked Duncan out, yet argues that Duncan “gave insight and data we wouldn’t have had otherwise.”
Duncan’s influence in Los Angeles baffles Scott Imler, co-author of Proposition 215, the 1996 ballot measure that approved medical marijuana use. “I wrote to Reyes early on,” recalls Imler, who once ran a pot collective that he says closely observed the nonprofit model enshrined in California law for medical marijuana. Imler wanted to help Reyes understand California law but never heard back.
“Next thing I saw was him being led blindly by Duncan,” Imler says. “You are letting this guy make money hand over fist, and write all the rules for himself.”
Imler is deeply suspicious of Duncan, saying the pot advocate is making a joke — and profit — out of Prop. 215. “Our intent was not to spawn an industry, and that is what has happened in the aftermath.,” Imler says. “Prop. 215 was written for patients to get help. The problem is 99 percent of the outfits out there are not following state law.”
Attorney General Jerry Brown made clear a year ago that state law does not allow profits. L.A. leaders, aside from city attorneys Delgadillo and Trutanich, have ignored his legal opinion.
Then last Friday, at a Los Angeles press conference, Brown went further, telling reporters, “Unfortunately in some communities, Los Angeles in particular, there’s a lot of exploitation and just getting into the drug business and dope business and they’re not really in the medical business.”
Imler says Duncan’s model was not about collective members growing their own, but about collective operators paying pot sellers — Duncan calls them “patient cultivators” — then charging patients an exorbitant fee. The operators of collectives “don’t think twice about selling the stuff for $80 a bag,” Imler says. “And we call this progress? We see Don Duncan arguing about his right to do this. City Council members are just walking hand-in-hand with him.”