L.A. Voter Guide: Should We Give City Hall Power to Legalize Pot Shops?

March 7 is your day to go green.EXPAND
March 7 is your day to go green.
Star Foreman/L.A. Weekly

In 2013 Los Angeles voters outlawed medical marijuana dispensaries under a measure, Proposition D, that simultaneously gave "limited legal immunity" to about 135 of them. The measure essentially put those shops in a legal gray area. And, come Jan. 1, they technically will become state outlaws under the Medical Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act — unless voters take action.

MCRSA requires state and local licenses for weed sellers by Jan. 1. That's also the date the recreational pot shops can open their doors in California. But pesky Proposition D essentially forbids such licensing in L.A.

Proposition M, which is on the March 7 ballot, would repeal Proposition D and allow the City Council to issue licenses to dispensaries after public hearings are held. It's do-or-die time for L.A. pot collectives.

"This is a framework that allows for control and sensible regulation," says Adam Spiker, executive director of the Southern California Coalition, a group of dispensaries that lobbied to get Proposition M put on the ballot. "There will also finally be licenses, and operators can do business without looking over their shoulders."

Proposition M would allow the council to issue permits to existing, Proposition D–compliant collectives; would expand the number of legal medical marijuana shops; would clear the path for the licensing of recreational pot shops; would tax cannabis businesses; and would establish new penalties for illegal weed store operators and the landlords who rent to them.

Pot-product manufacturers would be permitted and taxed under the measure. And the council would be responsible for "regulation of transportation" of cannabis; that could include green-lighting delivery services and apps, which are outlawed under Proposition D.

Spiker argues that penalties for illicit operators, including up to $20,000 a day in fines, will clean up what he estimates are more than 1,500 illegal shops in L.A. It's not clear how many more shops the council would permit, but it's generally believed that voters' passage of Proposition 64 in November, which will legalize recreational pot effective Jan. 1, 2018, will expand retail demand.

"There's a leap of faith that we're going to trust the city to deal with this in a judicious way," Spiker says.

Proposition M, spearheaded by council president Herb Wesson, was placed on the ballot by the City Council and is endorsed by Los Angeles Police Department Chief Charlie Beck, L.A. police union head Craig Lally and longtime dispensary group leader Yami Bolanos. No argument against the measure was submitted to the city clerk.

A similar, competing measure, Proposition N, has been abandoned by its backer, the United Cannabis Business Alliance, which has thrown its weight behind Proposition M. However, voters might not know that: Proposition N made the ballot before UCBA figured out its allegiances.

Each measure needs a majority to pass. If both get a majority, the one with the most votes wins.


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