Facts or No Facts, L.A. City Council Still Plows Ahead on Medical Weed Law

Whether they were taking their cues from medical marijuana advocates or still dreadfully ill-informed, several Los Angeles City Council members continued to throw around bad numbers and loose facts as they worked for hours on a medical marijuana dispensary ordinance yesterday.

After more than four years of supposed study, the City Council is still deliberating over how to regulate medical weed stores. L.A. Weekly has found there are some 545 pots shops in L.A.

City Council President Eric Garcetti said he hopes to pass an ordinance before the council takes off for winter recess at the end of next week. Councilman Ed Reyes, however, has said he doesn't expect legislation to be completed until early next year.

Whatever happens, City Council members continue to over-inflate the number of operating medical weed clinics in L.A. and make blind assumptions about how certain pot shops have been operating.

In one case, those assumptions led to a confusing compromise on how to cap the number of medical weed stores in L.A.

To make matters worse, the Los Angeles Times continues to report the council members' wildly inaccurate

and totally unscientific count of medical weed shops without any kind of caveat for its readers.

The City Council's fast and loose handling of the facts were on full display during a three-hour debate over a so-called medical marijuana dispensary "cap."

Yet before council members took on the issue, several medical marijuana advocates unloaded their own shaky numbers on local politicians.

During public comment, advocates insisted that between 100,000 and 250,000 medical weed patients reside in the L.A. area. No one said where that data came from, or if those numbers were specific to the city of Los Angeles. Medical marijuana advocates then argued, without offering any kind of study, that if a cap was established, huge numbers of medical pot patients would not be properly served.

The facts only got murkier from there.

Despite an extensive, two-month-long investigation by L.A. Weekly, which found that some 545 pot shops are operating in L.A., council members Dennis Zine, Paul Koretz, and Richard Alarcon said the city has 1,000 medical stores open for business -- nearly doubling the true number of that statistic.

The Times then reported the politicians' estimates without question, even though city government has yet to create a central database to officially and accurately track the total number of operating pot shops in L.A.

That's no small blunder by either the council members or the newspaper.

The number of pot shops has been an all-important statistic in how the City Council has been shaping its medical marijuana ordinance, and bad information often doesn't make for good legislation.

City Council members Janice Hahn, Dennis Zine, and Ed Reyes also insisted that pot shops that opened before a 2007 moratorium should not be affected by a citywide "cap" on medical weed stores, saying those places registered with the city and have played by the rules.

"They opened up legally," said Zine during the council meeting yesterday.

Council members Zine and Alarcon also assumed that those pot shots have been operating within state law, and Alarcon said they should be rewarded for their "good behavior."

But Councilman Jose Huizar pointed out that pre-moratorium pot shops merely filled out a registration form with the city, were "not vetted" by city agencies, and city officials continue to have little idea of how those medical weed stores have been operating -- for example, without a citywide auditing system in place to check their books, pot shops could be making huge profits against state law.  

"There's nothing special about (those pre-moratorium dispensaries)," Huizar told his colleagues. "We have good ones. We have bad ones."

Zine and crew, however, would not back off.

So Huizar, who led the push for a cap, accepted a confusing compromise that allows 137 existing pre-moratorium medical weed clinics to stay open while also setting a supposed citywide cap at 70. 

(The City Attorney's Office came up with the 137 number by using an L.A. Weekly PDF as source material, which found that 142 pre-moratorium pot shops are open. A representative of the City Attorney's Office said one possible reason for the slight difference between the two counts is that even though weed stores have the original name and location as when they first registered with the city, the pot shops changed owners and the City Attorney's Office did not include them among the 142.)

Huizar told theWeekly he thought the compromise was the only way to get the needed votes to make some kind of cap a reality.

City Council members such as Richard Alarcon reasoned that a tough medical marijuana ordinance will shut down a number of those operating pot shops and therefore the city will eventually reach its cap of 70.

But that may prove to be only wishful policy making. In the end, the cold hard fact is this: The cap is not 70 ... it's 137.

Still in pursuit of passing a medical marijuana ordinance before the holidays, the City Council will continue deliberations this week.


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