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NPR Gets L.A.'s Medical Weed Facts All Wrong

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Fri, Dec 11, 2009 at 8:30 AM


Maybe NPR has been reading too much of the Los Angeles Times coverage of this city's pot shop problem, or maybe one of its reporters is relying too heavily on the word of local politicians, but a recent post on the NPR blog gets many facts wrong about L.A.'s medical weed ordinance and all the hub-bub surrounding it.

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NPR blogger Scott Hensley starts off on the wrong foot in the first paragraph of his post, writing the L.A. City Council "delayed a vote on regulations that could, by some estimates, leave less than a dozen in business."

Whaaaaat?

On Tuesday, the council members passed ordinance language to assure that 137 pre-moratorium weed shops -- these are medical weed stores that registered with the city before a failed pot shop moratorium was established in 2007 -- can stay open.

137.

Not "less than a dozen."

As for the pot shops that opened up during the moratorium -- which total a little more than 400, according to an L.A. Weekly investigation -- they will certainly not close their doors without a fight. Los Angeles, therefore, is far from "less than a dozen" medical weeds shops selling "Alpha Kush" and marijuana-laced brownies.

The "facts" in the NPR post only get worse from there.

Hensley then writes that "1,000 or more shops may now be operating."

Wrong.

First of all, and we can't emphasize this enough, few city officials, if any, know the exact number of pot shops in L.A. Why? City government has still yet to create a central database to track all existing medical weed stores. So there is no well-researched number coming out of City Hall.

Anyone who's saying, or reporting for that matter, "1,000 or more" is purely, and completely, pulling that number out of his ... well, you know.

In October and November, though, the L.A Weekly sent out an investigation team that drove all over L.A., made over 1,400 phone calls, and found 142 pre-moratorium medical weed stores open for business. A little more than 400 pot shops that opened during the moratorium are also selling medical weed. Our total is 545 ... far less than 1,000.

The Weekly's count was so spot-on that the City Attorney's Office used our research to complete a report for the L.A. City Council on the number of existing pre-moratorium medical weed stores.

The City Attorney's Office came up with 137 pre-moratorium pot shops.

A city attorney representative told us a possible reason for the very slight difference was that five pot shops may have changed owners. So even though they had the same name and location as the original weed stores, the City Attorney's Office did not include them in the pre-moratorium count.

Back to NPR...

Hensley then writes: "The sticking points for the City Council vote were requirements

dispensaries be at least 1,000 feet from houses and apartments and that

would limit the number of outlets to 70."

The vote wasn't delayed because of "sticking points," as NPR suggests. The vote didn't happen because council members lacked important information -- Planning Department maps, for example -- to make an informed decision.

Additionally, the 1,000-foot buffer zone has nothing to do with the 70 figure.

That number actually came about as part of a confusing citywide "cap" the City Council approved on Tuesday, which is supposedly 70.

But since council members will allow the existing 137 pre-moratorium pot shops to remain open despite the "cap," hoping some day those medical weed stores will close and then the city will finally arrive at its "cap" of 70 through attrition, the real "cap" is 137.

It gets confusing, but NPR, which considers itself a big-time journalistic heavyweight in this country, should know better.

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