Former City Attorney Carmen Trutanich, who once held the opinion that no dispensary in Los Angeles was truly legal, was reviled by the local medical marijuana community.
His successor, Democrat Mike Feuer, took Trutanich's job, in at least some small part, because voters were fed up with the onetime Republican's anti-dispensary crusades.
So what have we here? A City Attorney who is now tasked with closing hundreds of illegal dispensaries even while he leads a crackdown on the increased phenomenon of stoned driving. Is Feuer treading lightly? Not necessarily. We recently asked him about it:
To be fair, Feuer's job was made easier by the voters, who last year passed Prop. D, an initiative that mandates the closure of roughly 90 percent of the marijuana dispensaries in town. Trutanich didn't have such a guideline.
Feuer told us he's been cracking down at a steady pace, with nearly 80 shops now targeted for civil or criminal action.
He said 850 letters were originally sent out to allegedly non-compliant dispensaries letting them know the new rules in town.
Those dispensaries, by the way, had until December to move if they were at locations that didn't jive with the law's limits on things like how close they can be to schools.
However, Feuer says that his office doesn't know how many such dispensaries there are, much less how many have closed in fear of Prop. D, or how many might have opened since D.
“We don't have a list,” he said:
In order for us to know with certainty we have to look at each one. We're working closely with neighborhood councils, police, and Building and Safety to identify those illegal dispensaries and to take steps to have them go out of business.
He thinks that, even though the city clearly doesn't have the resources to padlock 850 or so dispensaries, the City Attorney's work focusing on a few at a time is sending shock waves toward non-compliant shops:
Now that everybody in the community realizes we're moving systematically to enforce Proposition D, they're taking action. One lawyer indicated that, 'Now that we see you're enforcing this, we want to talk to you about an appropriate plea.'
We asked if it was legal for dispensaries to trade their legit status under Prop. D, just as some bar owners trade alcohol licenses, as we've seen happening. “I haven't seen a specific instance of that,” Feuer said. “I'll evaluate it as I see it.”
On another marijuana front, in December Feuer and the LAPD announced a crackdown on drugged drivers.
A $520,790 grant by the California Office of Traffic Safety will fund two prosecutors specifically to handle drug DUI cases. Authorities have zeroed in on an accident-causing stoned drivers.
We asked the City Attorney how he planned to prosecute these cases when the state has set no standards for what constitutes a marijuana DUI. Medical marijuana advocates have expressed concern that someone could have smoked days or even weeks ago and still have THC in their blood systems.
Part of the city crackdown on drugged driving will involve voluntary swab tests offered during traffic stops in which cops believe someone might be under the influence.
Feuer told us that his office had yet to use swab results in court.
We're still trying to validate the technology, to see if we want to employ it more broadly. I don't know that it will be used this year. It's important for us to use a technology that is substantiated.
He said drugged driving is “a big deal,” given studies that have shown an increase in such cases.
See also: Marijuana Driving, Other Drug-Based DUIs on the Increase in California
His drugged driving cases, Feuer said, will rely on more than one piece of evidence, including, possibly …
… the swab, if the result comes up positive. If the driver appears to be impaired and there's other evidence of impairment: The field sobriety test – if the signs are all positive. The aggregation of the evidence will be taken to court.
(Let us just also add: If you have a bong between your car seats.)
Given all that, we asked if Feuer feels he's walking a fine political line here. The voters of Los Angeles are fairly liberal. And polls say a solid majority supports access to medical marijuana.
I support the idea that people in pain should have access to medical marijuana. That's not the same as saying someone should drive impaired. I can't imagine anyone who thinks it's a good idea to get behind the wheel after taking medical marijuana.
Voters want access, but they didn't want to see dispensaries too close to schools. I know there is this balance to be struck. I think there's a way to grapple with the issues of medical marijuana that will capture everybody's agreement.
And, hey, if you wanted a City Attorney who's compassionate toward medical marijuana issues, you could have done worse than voting for a guy who looks just a little bit like Frank Zappa.