West Hollywood's Pot Ordinance Could Be A Smoke Screen

The Los Angeles City Council this week is looking at West Hollywood's regulation of medical marijuana dispensaries as a model for its own long-awaited ordinance, which will target the 800 or so pot shops registered in the city.

On Monday two council committees directed city staff members to draw up legislation that would mirror West Hollywood's pot-shop regulations. The problem with WeHo's rules, however, is that they don't address the core problem with most dispensaries statewide: They allow "over-the-counter" sales of pot, contrary to state law.

At least that's the view of the city attorney's office. State law, and the same Prop. 215 that started all this medical marijuana business, states "people were allowed to collectively cultivate and share it amongst themselves," says assistant City Attorney David Berger, "but no where were they ever allowed to sell marijuana, and no defense for sales of marijauan was created."

Likewise, the Los Angeles County District Attorney's office today warned the city against a WeHo-like law, saying it would not protect against a crackdown on dispensaries.

"Any proposed ordinance allowing for the sales of marijuana is in direct conflict with California's Compassionate Use Act and Medical Marijuana Program," said

John K. Spillane, chief deputy District Attorney.

West Hollywood's ordinance, while somewhat tidy and strict in its security and operating requirements, acknowledges over-the-counter sales to patients with a doctor's permission and even mentions that "secondary sale" of pot is prohibited by way of allowing initial transactions. The law even regulates "cash collected" on each business day.

Berger says it's not the way to go.

"The bottom line is, it doesn't matter how you try to set up the language -- if you are exchanging marijuana for currency in a single transaction, that's a sale and that's not lawful," says Berger.

What's more, WeHo's law was constructed in 2005, before a handful of court precedents -- and before guidelines issued by state Attorney General Jerry Brown -- that have changed the legal landscape for cities looking to get a grip on dispensaries.

Berger calls the move by some council members to support a WeHo-like ordinance "one way to go back to 2005."

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