Pot Legalization Could Liberate L.A.'s Strict Marijuana Market

Pot Legalization Could Liberate L.A.'s Strict Marijuana Market
Susan Slade Sanchez/L.A. Weekly

A top effort to put the full, recreational legalization of marijuana before voters next year could be an end run around Los Angeles' own voter-approved medical marijuana regulations.

In 2012 2013 a majority of Angelenos voted for Proposition D, which prohibits pot shops, provides limited immunity from prosecution for 135 or fewer dispensaries, and outlaws pot delivery except when done by a primary caregiver such as a home nurse.

ReformCA's initiative language, filed with the office of California's attorney general last week, says that "any prohibitions on the cultivation, manufacture, distribution, and sale of medical cannabis and medical cannabis products must be approved by a majority of voters residing in such cities or counties."

Backers say that even though the proposal is about recreational pot, they also want to ensure people who need medical weed are able to get it.

That might sound like a challenge to L.A.'s regime, but it's not entirely clear. ReformCA's could be one of three major pot legalization initiatives on the 2016.

Los Angeles voters technically banned dispensaries when they approved Prop. D in 2012 2013. The measure only provides limited immunity to those dispensaries open before the city initiated a moratorium in 2007. Those sellers are commonly known as pre-ICO, for interim control ordinance. The City Attorney's Office has said 125 to 130 of these dispensaries still exist. Many others, an unknown number, operate without the limited immunity.

"It is unlawful to own, establish, operate, use or permit the establishment or operation of a medical marijuana business," L.A.'s voter-approved law says.

Dale Sky Jones, chair of the Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform, the group behind the ReformCA proposal, says, "I would hesitate to call [Proposition D] a ban." She said calling it a ban is tantamount to making "legal double knots."

"That was a vote by the people that they did in fact want medical cannabis facilities," she told us. "Voters want safe access to medical cannabis. That's why we put that in."

Would the ReformCA initiative, then, require an election question on dispensaries in Los Angeles since, under Jones' interpretation, voters in L.A. never actually banned pot shops?

"The initiative does not undo what's going on currently in L.A., although it does suggest a better way," Jones said. "That would be up to L.A. I want to be very cautious here ... We're [not] saying you have to have another special election."

The initiative could also upend dispensary bans in places like Beverly Hills, Santa Monica and Culver City, where city council members have prohibited medical pot collectives. Santa Monica is close to allowing two shops to operate in its city. Long Beach banned cannabis collectives of more than three people.

ReformCA could also overturn L.A.'s prohibition on medical marijuana delivery. The initiative would stop cities like Los Angeles from banning cannabis delivery "by licensed providers ... to qualified patients for their personal medical use."

Pot Legalization Could Liberate L.A.'s Strict Marijuana Market
Timothy Norris/L.A. Weekly

Some weed delivery apps claim L.A's regulations have created a legal "gray area" here, but the City Attorney's Office has said that only primary caregivers, such as home nurses, are allowed to deliver.

"There is no lawful delivery service under Proposition D," City Attorney Mike Feuer has said.

Jones says Los Angeles' voter-approved law on this matter is illogical.

"It is an affront to logic and compassion that you're not going allow very sick people who cannot leave their home get their medicine, making them drive high," she said. "It's absolutely ridiculous logic — not allowing delivery."

"Part of the ban against delivery," she says, "was fear-mongering."


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