Pot Shops: First Too Many, Now Too Few

Updated, with information from the office of the city attorney. More problems with L.A.'s medical marijuana dispensary ordinance. After years of wrangling and foot-dragging, the city finally passed an ordinance to regulate the shops, with the expectation that it would shut down 400 of about 580 when it went into effect in June.

But The Times, in a frankly unsatisfying piece, reports the city clerk has used the ordinance to certify which shops are legal, and come up with only 41 that can stay open.

Here's the lede: Los Angeles officials announced Wednesday that only 41 medical marijuana dispensaries are eligible to stay in business under the city's restrictive ordinance, a number so low that the city will suspend the winnowing process and ask a judge to rule that it is legal.

"It" apparently refers to the winnowing process.

Many of the newly axed are said to be among the more reputable shops in the city and naturally they're outraged. The city clerk took a narrow view of the ordinance, which apparently made many shops ineligible. In a classic bureaucratic move, they didn't explain to the ineligible shops why they are ineligible.

Jane Usher, an assistant city attorney who helped draft the ordinance, said it was a surprise.

Then there's this:

Rather than move ahead with a selection process that would clearly trigger a spate of new lawsuits by disqualified dispensaries, the city attorney's office plans to sue the ineligible outlets first and ask a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge to determine that the city's process was appropriate.

"We're trying to be proactive," Usher said.

Uh, what? So instead of waiting to get sued, they're going to sue them. The American way! Perhaps it's "pro-active," but it still means a lot of litigation, and a lot legit shops closed because of some technicality that the city clerk won't explain.

And what's the difference exactly between "moving ahead with the selection process" and not doing so but merely suing all the ineligibles? Suing the ineligibles certainly sounds likes "moving ahead" with the selection process, just through a different route. A distinction without a difference.

Update: Assistant City Attorney Jane Usher clarifies some things for us: To pass muster, the shops had to have been operating continuously; been at the same location or moved once with the threat of federal DEA enforcement; operated under the same ownership and management; and pass a criminal background check.

Those that couldn't meet what Usher calls those "plain Jane" requirements are out. The next step is to have the remaining 41 find locations and set up in a way that will meet building and safety specs. But they're not going to do that yet. First, they're going to court on all the shops that have to close. (Until the judge decides the process was legal, they can keep operating.) Usher said it was a surprise that so few made this round, but so be it.

If there are fewer than 70 pot shops citywide, the ordinance calls for a lottery, allowing new operators to come in until the number reaches 70. So there you have it. The city is overseeing a pretty random and arbitrary pot cartel. Excellent work.

Clarification: To be sure, there are fairly clear rules that have been established, but it's a cartel, and at least in the case of the coming lottery, it is indeed arbitrary and random.

We have a call in with the city clerk.

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