Pot Shops Want to Grow Legit Marijuana Business in L.A.

Pot Shops Want to Grow Legit Marijuana Business in L.A.
File photo by Ernie Manrique/L.A. Weekly

Los Angeles law allows for 135 or fewer pot shops in town. In fact, "allows" might be an exaggeration. Proposition D, approved by voters in 2013, provides only "limited immunity" from prosecution for the operators of those businesses if they follow certain rules.

The city does not issue permits to dispensaries. And delivery services are illegal, the City Attorney's Office has said.

But in the shadow of rapid changes in California's cannabis scene, including new statewide regulations that kick in in 2018 and the good possibility that voters will approve recreational pot legalization in November, those quasi-legit collective operators are itching for changes to city rules.

A package of bills, collectively known as the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act (MMRSA), brings long-awaited state recognition to dispensaries. It was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown late last year. 

One of the requirements of MMRSA is that cities issue permits to pot shops that would be recognized by the soon-to-be-created state pot bureaucracy. That's a problem because L.A. doesn't issue permits to collectives.

While "clean-up" legislation by Assemblyman Byron Jones-Sawyer of Los Angeles would essentially exempt those L.A. dispensaries from local permitting requirements, collectives are asking city leaders to modify Proposition D to allow local permits.

Not only that but the dispensaries, part of a core group of the 135 or fewer granted limited immunity, want a possible expansion of that number, permits for growers and the legalization of delivery services, multiple sources familiar with the lobbying told us.

One group leading the charge is the Cultivator Alliance, a spinoff of the Greater Los Angeles Collective Alliance (GLACA), the core organization representing limited-immunity dispensaries.

"We’re actually trying to change the law," said an attorney involved with Cultivator Alliance. 

GLACA was previously helping to draft a city ballot measure that would ask voters to make those changes to Proposition D. But we're told the effort has shifted gears and is now targeting the City Council, which has the ability to modify the law without voter approval.

"Our current plan is to work with City Council as opposed to a voter initiative," the attorney said.

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A spokesman for the City Attorney's Office confirmed that the council can make such changes, so long as they don't increase or extend taxes, which would require voter approval.

While Proposition D was billed as a new day for dispensaries and an emancipation for patients sneaking around in the shadows of the law, the city has been cold and hard when it comes to enforcement, with prosecutors reminding the public that dispensaries aren't legal, just partially immune.

The City Attorney's Office has now targeted two popular marijuana delivery services, SpeedWeed and Nestdrop, for extinction.

And hundreds of illegal shops have been shut down. 

Some marijuana advocates have argued that this wasn't how Proposition D was supposed to go down. With recreational legalization — which wouldn't necessarily allow for more dispensaries in L.A. — in the air, some activists say it's time for Los Angeles to better reflect the will of the people or, in this case, the will of the patients.

"I believe it's time for Proposition D to be revised," said Sarah Armstrong, director of industry affairs for Americans for Safe Access. "There's nothing to stop the city from going ahead now and revising D and thinking about how to restructure medical marijuana in the city."

Dale Gieringer, state coordinator of California NORML, seems to agree, saying that L.A. needs to get the law changed before MMRSA and its permit requirements go into effect in 2018.

California's major recreational pot initiative, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA), would allow those 21 and older to hold an ounce or less of weed. Its regulation system relies heavily on MMRSA. So if that passes, L.A.'s dispensaries might not be compliant.

"Your law is a mess," Gieringer said. "Your law is not compatible with AUMA. You guys do not have a permit system for dispensaries. You guys have got to change your law."

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