The journey toward becoming a city with 135 or fewer marijuana dispensaries has been a slow one for Los Angeles.
In May, L.A. voters approved Measure D, which mandated that all but the 135 shops that were operating legally during a 2007 city moratorium must close. But here we are approaching spring and the pot store scene in L.A. seems to be the same as it ever was. Estimates put the number of shops in town at 1,000 when D passed. It's not clear how many have closed.
City Attorney Mike Feuer has officially targeted nearly 80 for closure and says others will follow simply out of fear. However, one dispensary attorney says city prosecutors have been playing hardball, discouraging some shops from closing even though they want to:
Attorney Mieke ter Poorten says she and a colleague represent more than a few dispensaries that are ready to abide by the law and to close their doors. But she claims that, after approaching the City Attorney's office, prosecutors would not offer her clients deals that would avoid ugly criminal charges.
Ter Poorten says she tried to get a deal for her clients by which they would close up shop, enter pleas and have the charges dismissed in a year if they stay out of trouble. It's a deal that first-time offenders, such as small-time drug defendants, sometimes get in exchange for going through rehab or keeping clean.
She says prosectors aren't going for it.
Instead, she says, they're offering the standard dispensary package: Misdemeanor Superior Court charges and three years of probation upon prosecution. While those records can be expunged after probation has been successfully completed, employers and others can still find out about them.
"We'll enter a plea," ter Poorten said, "and after a period of one year, after my clients have proven they have remained closed, they'll have the charges against them dismissed. Please allow my clients to close without a criminal conviction. But because we're not getting this deal, there's no point in settling. We might as well go to trial."
The lawyer says that there would be a wave of closures if the City Attorney's office was more willing to compromise. "He [Feuer] can have a big press release saying 50 dispensaries closed in two weeks."
Maybe not. Feuer's office sent us this response:
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City Attorney Feuer is committed to aggressively enforcing Prop D and upholding the will of the voters. Our Office began sending notices to medical marijuana businesses in June, 2013 informing them of the passage of Proposition D and the consequences of remaining open. Notwithstanding receipt of the notices, many medical marijuana businesses flouted the law and remained open, making thousands of dollars and negatively impacting our neighborhoods.
By prosecuting these illegal businesses, our objective is to close them and also to discourage new illegal businesses, including those run by the same operators, from opening in our City. With that in mind, our prosecutors review each case individually and propose appropriate sentencing terms to fit the circumstances of each case.
Ter Poorten maintains that a softer stance would get the job done.
"The City Attorney is playing Whac-A-Mole," she says, because dispensaries are reluctant to close and others are opening. "The judges hate these cases. They are clogging up their dockets."