L. A. City Council ducks medical pot vote at wild meeting; harsh land-use limits anger crowd

No surprise: At a raucous meeting today, the Los Angeles City Council decided to hold off on voting on a controversial medical marijuana ordinance that would severely reduce the 545 pot shops in Los Angeles.

The postponement came after the city's Planning Department presented hurriedly created maps showing that only five of 137 pot shops envisioned under a City Council cap could remain at their current locations if the city adopts a buffer zone to keep them at least 500 feet from schools, youth centers, libraries, religious institutions and residential properties. The remaining 118 would most likely have to relocate, many to industrial zones.

The findings caused a stir among council members and pro-medical marijuana advocates who booed many of the details presented by city planner Alan Bell. Here's the amazing part:

This was the first time, five years after the council decided it needed to adopt local regulations for selling medical weed, that the City Council has ever seen a zoning map showing where pot shops would be located or be banned under a typical "buffer zone" approach used in many California cities.

Unlike San Diego, where a respected polling group conducted a detailed survey of city residents to learn what residents wanted to do about medical pot (San Diego residents strongly back medical weed, but only 23 percent want a pot dispensary within a mile of their homes), Los Angeles just recently began debating land-use and neighborhood impact.

San Francisco acted about one year ago, adopting a 1,000-foot buffer around its schools and has shut down roughly half of its 50 pot shops.

The hot-button issue, which has been bogged down in a gridlocked Los Angeles City Council committee for many years, gained steam in the last few weeks after the council voted on December 8 to limit the number of pot shops to 137 -- those shops that opened up before the council rushed to adopt a 2007 pot outlet moratorium.

The council asked the Planning Department to draw up detailed maps that would show how close the pot shops would be to schools, youth centers, libraries, religious institutions and residential properties if buffer zones are adopted.

The Planning Department found that if pot shops were limited to a 500-foot buffer zone around sensitive uses, they could open in 31 percent of the city's commercial and industrial areas -- but only five percent of those areas would be commercial spots such as business districts. The rest would be industrially zoned.

If the city decides on a 1,000-foot buffer from sensitive uses, no pot shops would be able to open, said Bell.

If nothing else, the meeting showed which council members were in favor of pot shops and which members were not. Rosendahl, whose lover died of AIDS, said that if it wasn't for medical marijuana his lover would not have been able to eat. "We are treating this like a pariah. There are liquor stores all over the place. It should be legal...Putting it in back alleys and industrial areas is wrong."

Garcetti argued that he wanted to give "special consideration" for those pot shops who opened before the moratorium. "I don't want to have secondary effects where there are no clinics," he said.

But referring to the pro-marijuana advocates dominating the audience, Alarcon said the city had already "gone a long way to give [the medical marijuana advocates] what they want."

Alarcon was resoundingly booed by the crowd, but continued: "We don't have to do this...I don't want it 1,000 feet from my kid. Period."

Councilman Smith noted that pot shops have become crime magnets yet the City Council is being shown zoning maps instead of maps from the Los Angeles Police Department showing the crime hot spots. "My district won't stand for it," Smith said.

His comments caused a furor again among the rowdy pro-marijuana crowd, and security guards threatened to throw people out. "All your boos prove to me that you aren't good citizens," lamented Smith.

The next City Council hearing on the issue is set for January 13.


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